Kepler occurrence rate review, day 1

Today I got up at dawn's crack and drove to Mountain View for a review of the NASA Kepler team's planet occurrence rate inferences. It was an incredible day of talks and conversations about the data products and experiments needed to turn Kepler's planet (or object-of-interest) catalog into a rate density for exoplanets, and especially the probabilities that stars host Earth-like planets. We spent time talking about high-level priorities, but also low-level methodologies, including MCMC for uncertainty propagation, adaptive experimental design for completeness (efficiency) estimation, and the relative merits of forward modeling and counting planets in bins. On the latter, the Kepler team is creating (and will release publicly) everything needed for either approach.

One thing that pleased me immensely is that Foreman-Mackey's paper on the abundance of Earth analogs got a lot of play in the meeting as an exemplar of good methodology, and also an exemplar of how uncertain we are about the planet occurrence rate! The Kepler team—and increasingly the whole astronomical community—is coming around to the view that forward modeling methods (as in hierarchical probabilistic modeling or approximate bayesian computation) are preferable to counting dots in bins.

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