I was in a seminar last week where exoplanet science was described as being in the post-Kepler era. This phrase has much merit given how dramatically our understanding of exoplanet populations has changed since Kepler launched. For example in 2007 the state of the art simulations predicted 10-100 Earth mass planets do not form. Kepler data has shown this predicted to be spectacularly wrong. Turns out most planets all into this range.
However, in the talk post-Kepler era was used to describe the era after Kepler stops taking data. Which is now because Kepler is dead, right? Erm, actually no. Kepler is alive and, if not well, doing pretty good. What is true is that Kepler cannot point accurately at its original field, but there are parts of the sky where it can really kick ass – in the ecliptic. Most of the current information is subject to change but our best guess is that we will be able to observe some 10’s of thousands of targets continuously for about 2.5 months. Now here is the real exciting part. Its very possible that we will be able to obtain better than 100 parts per million photometry. That means we could easily detect rocky Earth-sized bodies around Sun-like stars, albeit pretty hot rocks. This capability is unique, nothing else can achieve precision as good as that. This is why I’m super excited by two wheel Kepler. We just need a good name for this refactored mission.