Kepler's First Exoplanet Candidate Confirmed, 10 Years Later

Rodiano Bonacci
Marzo 8, 2019

When scientists first notice evidence of an exoplanet in data from Kepler or any other telescope, that data has to be studied closely to see if it is indeed what it appears to be.

An artist's concept of the Kepler-1658 system.

In a new blog post, NASA reveals the final confirmation of the planet now known as Kepler-1658b, and it turned out to be even more interesting than scientists had initially thought. The initial estimate of the size of the planet's host star was incorrect, so the sizes of both the star and Kepler-1658 b were vastly underestimated.

Between 2009 and 2013, NASA's exoplanet-hunting Kepler mission discovered that super-Earths, or rocky exoplanets that are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, orbit approximately 30 percent of known stars that are similar to our sun.

"This, in turn, means that the planet is three times larger, revealing that Kepler-1658b is actually a hot Jupiter-like planet", added Chontos, lead author of a new study announcing the world's confirmation, which was presented today (March 5) at the Kepler/K2 Science Conference in Glendale, California.

She said: "Our new analysis, which uses stellar sound waves observed in the Kepler data to characterise the star, demonstrated that the star is, in fact, three times larger than previously thought".

Dan Huber, co-author, and an astronomer at the University of Hawaii said, "We alerted Dave Latham (a senior astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and co-author on the paper) and his team collected the necessary spectroscopic data to unambiguously show that Kepler-1658b is a planet".

Together, Chontos and an worldwide team of astronomers have a paper on the planet that has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal. Kepler-1658b, orbiting with a period of just 3.8 days, was the first exoplanet candidate discovered by Kepler almost 10 years ago.

Kepler-1658 is 50 per cent more massive and three times larger than the Sun, the researchers said.

The quick orbit sends the planet around the star every 3.85 days. New software was developed and used to refine the data and reclassify it, Kepler-1658b was again a possible planet. It's rare to find planets orbiting such "evolved" stars, discovery team members said.

Kepler-1658 b is ideal for follow-up observations by other space telescopes in the future to learn how hot Jupiters evolve and form. Kepler-1658 is a ideal example of why a better understanding of host stars of exoplanets is so important. But because the planet is so extreme, astronomers can study the processes behind what causes some planets to spiral into their host stars. But further analysis is required to confirm whether a planet is there or not.

But numerous paired exoplanets found by Kepler defied those rules. The spacecraft is responsible for almost 70 percent of the roughly 3,900 exoplanet discoveries to date. Spotted by NASA's now retired Kepler space telescope, Kepler 1658b remained an exoplanet candidate for a decade.

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