Get ready for some 'galactic context' as nearly 100 new exoplanets discovered

Andrew Cummings
February 18, 2018

About 3,600 exoplanets are known to exist outside our solar system now, majority thanks to Kepler.

Kepler, which is now on the K2 mission to discover exoplanets, has found thousands of candidates since it was launched nearly a decade ago.

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

The first data from the K2 was released in 2014, with the latest findings released in a paper published in the Astronomical Journal. It is hard to distinguish between signals coming from exoplanets and those that are not, as signals can be caused by multiple star systems, spacecraft noise or other sources. These are measurements of drops in luminosity from distant stars, potentially caused by a planet passing in front of the light source, therefore momentarily lowering brightness. "But we also detected planets that range from sub Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger", said Mayo. However, a collaboration between astronomers and engineers resulted in the ability to repurpose and save the telescope by changing its field of view at regular intervals.

"There are no surprises, per se, but it's a great new haul of planets, and plenty of fodder for exploring the individual systems within the catalog", Jessie Christiansen, an astronomer at NASA's Exoplanet Archive who was not involved with the study, told Newsweek by email.

One of the planets detected was orbiting a very bright star.

Exoplanets are those planets which revolve and orbit around their host star outside the solar system. "Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories". More exoplanets mean more opportunities to parse through what these mysterious planets' atmospheres might contain-and if those atmospheres mirror our own, with common molecules like carbon dioxide or otherwise. This paved the way for K2 mission which so far has been providing more success. The dips indicate that the planets exist, which then must be examined more closely in order to determine whether they are, in fact, a planet.

"The original Kepler mission was our first glimpse into the incredible abundance and diversity of exoplanets in the Galaxy", Mayo said. One method that researchers use is called transit photometry, which involves measuring the dimming of a star as an orbiting planet passes between it and the Earth.

It's a major breakthrough that reveals new planets that range in size from smaller than Earth to celestial bodies even bigger than Jupiter.

The new planet, estimated to be about 30 percent larger than Earth, is 'not a place you'd like to visit, ' said Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas, Austin.

The Kepler planet hunting satellite has been searching the stars for distant worlds using Google's AI system, which used machine learning to "find" planets in the Kepler data with up to 96 percent accuracy.

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