The Kepler Mission Has Discovered Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

Mayo and his colleagues analysed hundreds of signals of potential exoplanets to determine which signals were created by exoplanets and which were caused by other sources. File

And more than 2,000 additional Kepler candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations or analysis. But a fix was affected in 2014, and the second phase of its planet-hunting mission, which is still ongoing, was called K2.

There are 95 additions to the ever-growing list of exoplanets, as researchers analyzing data collected by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope discovered them scattered around our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

"We started out analysing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets".

The new study was published today (Feb. 15) in The Astronomical Journal.

Mayo's research was actually conducted partly as a senior project during his undergraduate studies at Harvard College.

The scientists from institutions including Nasa, Caltech, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Tokyo, were able to determine the radius of each planet, its distance from its host star and its orbital period, as well as other parameters.

The Kepler mission was launched in 2009. However, astronomers and engineers devised a way to repurpose and save the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically.

That brings the K2 tally to 292, and the total haul over Kepler's entire operational life to almost 2,440 - about two-thirds of all the alien worlds ever discovered. These dips are indications of exoplanets which must then be examined much closer in order to validate the candidates that are actually exoplanets.

The field is relatively young - the first exoplanet was discovered in 1992 - but it is rapidly maturing.

"We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft".

Some 3,600 exoplanets have been found since the first one, 51 Pegasi b, was discovered orbiting a Sun-like star in 1995.

"We validated a planet on a 10 day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by either the Kepler or K2 missions to host a validated planet".

Just like the planets in the solar system range in size from the tiny Mercury (18 of it could fit inside Earth) to the enormous Jupiter (about 1,300 Earths could fit inside it), exoplanets come in a variety of sizes and masses too - some smaller than the moon and others a few times larger than Jupiter.

They range in size from Earth-like to Jupiter-sized.

This is partially about the search for extraterrestrial life, but also because statistical data about the universe around us - such as how many planets there are, the average number of planets per system, and the number of rocky and gaseous planets - can tell us more about how typical (or not) our own Solar System is, and how it fits into our Universe. The discovery was deemed significant because the bright star enables the planets to be observed from "ground-based observatories".

Mayo and his team are understandably excited about the discovery of these 100 new planets and their implications for the future of the field. The upcoming launches of missions like NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite should further our understanding.

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