Habitable Planets Around White Dwarfs: an Alternate Mission for the Kepler Spacecraft

A large fraction of white dwarfs (WDs) may host planets in their habitable zones. These planets may provide our best chance to detect bio-markers on a transiting exoplanet, thanks to the diminished contrast ratio between the Earth-sized WD and its Earth-sized planets.

The JWST is capable of obtaining the first spectroscopic measurements of such planets, yet there are no known planets around WDs. Here we propose to take advantage of the unique capability of the Kepler spacecraft in the 2-Wheels mode to perform a transit survey that is capable of identifying the first planets in the habitable zone of a WD. We propose to obtain Kepler time-series photometry of 10,000 WDs in the SDSS imaging area to search for planets in the habitable zone. Thanks to the large field of view of Kepler, for the first time in history, a large number of WDs can be observed at the same time, which is essential for discovering transits.

Our proposed survey requires a total of 200 days of observing time, and will find up to 100 planets in the WD habitable zone. This survey will maintain Kepler's spirit of searching for habitable Earths, but near new hosts. With few-day observations and minute-cadences per field, it will also open up a completely unexplored discovery space. In addition to planets, this survey is sensitive to pulsating WDs, as well as eclipsing short period stellar and substellar companions. These have important implications for constraining the double WD merger rate and their contribution to Type Ia supernovae and the gravitational wave foreground.

Given the relatively low number density of our targets, this program can be combined with other projects that would benefit from high cadence and many-fields observations with Kepler, e.g. a transit survey of a magnitude-limited, complete sample of nearby M dwarfs or asteroseismology of variable stars (e.g. RR Lyrae) in the same fields.

Mukremin Kilic, Eric Agol, Abraham Loeb, Dan Maoz, Jeffrey A. Munn, Alexandros Gianninas, Paul Canton, Sara D. Barber (Submitted on 30 Aug 2013)

Comments: Kepler White Paper

Subjects: Galaxy Astrophysics (astro-ph.GA); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)

Cite as: arXiv:1309.0009 [astro-ph.GA]

(or arXiv:1309.0009v1 [astro-ph.GA] for this version) Submission history From: Mukremin Kilic [v1] Fri, 30 Aug 2013 20:00:06 GMT (22kb)

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