MIT Scientists Say They Just Discovered 80 New Exoplanets in Record Time

Thursday, 21 June 2018 - 10:43AM
Thursday, 21 June 2018 - 10:43AM
MIT Scientists Say They Just Discovered 80 New Exoplanets in Record Time
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According to NASA, over 78 percent of confirmed exoplanets were discovered using the transit method, which involves analyzing how much the light from a host star dims as the object passes between it and the observer.


From the time that the data is released by NASA's K2 mission, it typically takes several months to a year for scientists to analyze the light curves from the tens of thousands of stars monitored to find exoplanet candidates.


Using existing tools developed at the institute, MIT scientists were recently able to identify 80 candidates in just two weeks and have reported their findings in a paper in Astronomical Journal.

The study was co-led by Assistant Professor of Physics Ian Crossfield and graduate student Liang Yu. Search through lightcurve graphs for over 50,000 stars, they were able to find "30 high-quality planet candidates (showing no signs of being non-planetary in nature), 48 more ambiguous events that may be either planets or false positives, 164 eclipsing binaries, and 231 other regularly periodic variable sources."


Of the 78 candidates, there is one orbiting the star HD 73344 that they were particularly interested in.


The planet orbits the star every 15 days and is estimated to be 2.5 times the size and 10 times the mass of Earth.


It is around 114 light years away and very hot (around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit).


"We think it would probably be more like a smaller, hotter version of Uranus or Neptune," said Crossfield.


If the exoplanet is confirmed, it would make HD 73344 the brightest host ever discovered by the K2 mission.

While new exoplanet candidates are always exciting, it's the speed of the analysis that has the MIT team pumped for the future, specifically for the data to be released by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).


TESS is the first-ever "spaceborne all-sky transit survey," which gives it a major advantage of all ground-based systems.


The two-year survey will monitor 200,000 stars, which will greatly increase the number of exoplanet candidates.


"When the TESS data come down, there'll be a few months before all of the stars that TESS looked at for that month 'set' for the year," Crossfield explained.


"If we get candidates out quickly to the community, everyone can start immediately observing systems discovered by TESS, and doing a lot of great planetary science. So this [analysis] was really a dress rehearsal for TESS."

So far, four of the candidates from the MIT study has been confirmed as exoplanets by astronomers.