Published: Thu, February 15, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Scientists discover 95 new planets orbiting stars outside our solar system

Scientists discover 95 new planets orbiting stars outside our solar system

However, researchers must examine these dimming events closely to confirm that they are being caused by transiting exoplanets. But a fix was affected in 2014, and the second phase of its planet-hunting mission, which is still ongoing, was called K2.

The exoplanet discoveries by NASA's Kepler space telescope keep rolling in.

"We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft", said Andrew Mayo, an American PhD student at the National Space Institute of the Technical University of Denmark and the publication's lead author.

Of the 275 candidates in the dataset - being compiled since the first K2 data release in 2014 - 149 were verified to be actual exoplanets, and of those, researchers found 54 had already been discovered earlier, leaving them with 95 previously unknown exoplanets.

Mayo's research was actually conducted partly as a senior project during his undergraduate studies at Harvard College. It has also involved a team of worldwide colleagues from institutions such as NASA, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Tokyo.

Kepler launched in March 2009, on a mission to help scientists determine just how common rocky, potentially habitable worlds such as Earth are throughout the Milky Way. This solution paved the way for the follow up K2 mission, which is still ongoing as the spacecraft searches for exoplanet transits.

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

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Mayo has stated that it's hard to determine if these 100 new planets were actually planets, saying, "We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft".

"The most interesting thing about this new release of planets is that they orbit stars that are quite bright relative to the original Kepler mission, so many will be excellent targets for follow-up observations such as mass measurements and atmospheric characterisation", Mayo said. The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995.

Finding planets around bright stars is good news for astronomers because they can learn a lot about them using ground-based observatories.

But mission managers figured out a way to stabilize Kepler using sunlight pressure, and the spacecraft soon embarked on its K2 mission, which involves exoplanet hunting on a more limited basis, as well as observing comets and asteroids in our own solar system, supernovas and a range of other objects and phenomena.

Just like the planets in the solar system range in size from the tiny Mercury (18 of it could fit inside Earth) to the big 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.

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

They range in size from Earth-like to Jupiter-sized. To date, more than 3,700 exoplanets have been confirmed, with more than 2,500 of those identified by the two Kepler missions. This ability to salvage the telescope allowed for the launch of the K2 mission which recently discovered 100 new planets.

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