The Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK). I. Description of a new observational project

D. M. Kipping, G. Á Bakos, L. Buchhave, D. Nesvorný, A. Schmitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

139 Scopus citations


Two decades ago, empirical evidence concerning the existence and frequency of planets around stars, other than our own, was absent. Since that time, the detection of extrasolar planets from Jupiter-sized to, most recently, Earth-sized worlds has blossomed and we are finally able to shed light on the plurality of Earth-like, habitable planets in the cosmos. Extrasolar moons may also be frequently habitable worlds, but their detection or even systematic pursuit remains lacking in the current literature. Here, we present a description of the first systematic search for extrasolar moons as part of a new observational project called "The Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler" (HEK). The HEK project distills the entire list of known transiting planet candidates found by Kepler (2326 at the time of writing) down to the most promising candidates for hosting a moon. Selected targets are fitted using a multimodal nested sampling algorithm coupled with a planet-with-moon light curve modeling routine. By comparing the Bayesian evidence of a planet-only model to that of a planet-with-moon, the detection process is handled in a Bayesian framework. In the case of null detections, upper limits derived from posteriors marginalized over the entire prior volume will be provided to inform the frequency of large moons around viable planetary hosts, n. After discussing our methodologies for target selection, modeling, fitting, and vetting, we provide two example analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 10 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • methods: data analysis
  • occultations
  • planetary systems
  • planets and satellites: general
  • techniques: photometric


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