Scientists Have Discovered Almost 100 New Exoplanets

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 15, 2018

Almost 100 planets orbiting stars outside our solar system have been discovered by scientists.

They confirmed 149 as real exoplanets, of which 95 proved to be new discoveries.

NASA's K2 mission has provided a second chance for the Kepler Space Telescope to push the boundaries of observation and planet-hunting.

The spacecraft, which is on the K2 mission to discover new exoplanets, has uncovered thousands of candidates since it was launched nearly a decade ago. But a fix was affected in 2014, and the second phase of its planet-hunting mission, which is still ongoing, was called K2.

An global team of researchers from institutions including NASA, Caltech, Denmark, and the University of California, Berkeley, today added 95 new exoplanets to the list.

"We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft", study lead author Andrew Mayo, a Ph.D. student at the Technical University of Denmark's National Space Institute, said in a statement. The Kepler telescope had a mechanical failure in 2013 after observing one swath of space for four years, picking up faraway, dim planets and stars.

The 100 new planets were discovered by registering the dips in light caused when the planets cross in front of the host star. The mission was revived as K2 when NASA figured out a way to use Kepler's thrusters as a makeshift reaction wheel, therefore retaining the ability to reorient the telescope to look at different parts of the sky. One world of particular interest among the latest batch was found to orbit the brightest star to host a planet ever found using Kepler. 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 search for new exoplanets is now one of the most exciting areas of space science, one that is providing fascinating insights into our universe.

Behind the K2 Mission.

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.

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.

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