Scientists Just Discovered The Largest Batch of Exoplanets In A Single Sitting Thanks To A Technical Error

Wednesday, 08 August 2018 - 12:10PM
Space
Wednesday, 08 August 2018 - 12:10PM
Scientists Just Discovered The Largest Batch of Exoplanets In A Single Sitting Thanks To A Technical Error
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Image Credit: Pixabay Composite

We're still waiting for NASA's TESS satellite to significantly grow the list of known exoplanets, but that doesn't mean that scientists are twiddling their thumbs until the data rolls in. According to reports, an international team using data from various telescopes including Kepler recently found a large cache of 44 confirmed planets out of a pool of 72 candidates - one of the single biggest hauls in history - and it was thanks in part to a technical problem back in 2013.

According to Motohide Tamura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, something went wrong with Kepler five years ago that turned out to be a happy accident. "Two out of the four control-reaction wheels failed, which meant Kepler couldn't perform its original mission to stare at one specific patch of the sky," Tamura said in a statement. "This led to its contingent mission, 'K2' — our observations came from campaign 10 of this mission. We're lucky Kepler continues to function as well as it does." In a report published in The Astronomical Journal, Tamura and his team provided more details about the find, including approximations of their varying sizes. "It was also gratifying to verify so many small planets," said University of Tokyo graduate student and the study's lead author John Livingston in a statement. "Sixteen were in the same size class as Earth, one in particular turning out to be extremely small — about the size of Venus — which was a nice affirmation as it's close to the limit of what is possible to detect."

Another interesting discovery about the exoplanets is that four of them complete their orbits around their hosts in less than 24 hours, which means that a year passes on their surface in the time that it takes a day to pass here on Earth. Among the 44 are 18 planets that scientists want to pay special attention to because they are believed to be in multi-planet systems. "The investigation of other solar systems can help us understand how planets and even our own solar system formed," said Livingston. 

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