NASA Finds Nearly 100 New Exoplanets Hiding in Kepler Telescope's K2 Mission Data
If you're keeping count at home (which you shouldn't be, because there is a website for that), the current count for confirmed exoplanets is now up to 3,605, thanks to a team of scientists who just confirmed nearly 100 new candidates using data from NASA's K2 mission.
The research began in 2014 with the release of the Kepler data and was led by Andrew Mayo, then an undergraduate at Harvard University and now a postdoctoral student at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.
Mayo's team included an international team of researchers at NASA, the University of Copenhagen, the University of Tokyo, Caltech, and UC Berkeley. "We started out analyzing 275 candidates, of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets," said Mayo. "In turn, 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries."
Simply defined, an exoplanet is a planet that orbits another star, but they are not easy to validate. 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.
Mayo and his team had to analyze hundreds of signals to determine which were caused by exoplanets dipping in front of their host stars, and which were something else entirely. "We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft. But we also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger."
One of the exoplanets validated during the study is orbiting the star HD 212657, which Mayo says is the brightest star found by Kepler/K2 missions to host a confirmed planet.
"Exoplanets are a very exciting field of space science," said Mayo. "As more planets are discovered, astronomers will develop a much better picture of the nature of exoplanets which in turn will allow us to place our own solar system into a galactic context."
Every new exoplanet discovery represents a fresh chance to finally confirm a truly habitable planet or contact alien life, and this discovery is no different.
While it will be a while before we can officially confirm exactly what these planets look like, considering we're making consistent discoveries these days of solar systems like TRAPPIST-1, a seven-planet solar system a mere 39 light-years away from Earth that we've confirmed almost certainly contains several Earth-like planets that likely harbor extraterrestrial life, the odds are in our favor of making a yet another historic discovery here.
Let's just hope we find the aliens before they find us; if extraterrestrials make first contact with us, even through a seemingly benign space message, scientists tell us that isn't likely to end well.