Confirmed: Kepler Satellite Discovers 95 New Exoplanets

Confirmed: Kepler Satellite Discovers 95 New Exoplanets

NASA’s Kepler satellite has confirmed once and for all that planets are not a rarity in the universe. In more than eight years in space, the observatory has detected more than 2,000 confirmed exoplanets in orbit of other stars, and now you can add more to the list. A review of Kepler data reveals 95 newly discovered exoplanets, one of which could be of great interest to astronomers.

Kepler entered service in 2009 with an expected primary mission lasting three and a half years. NASA is used to hardware lasting well beyond the expected lifetime — Curiosity is still trucking along on Mars since 2012, but the original mission was just two years long. However, as the end of Kepler’s primary mission neared, two of its reaction wheels failed. Without those, it was unable to control its orientation for long observations of distant objects.

NASA developed a workaround for Kepler that allowed it to conduct observations at certain points in its orbit. The satellite uses pressure from the solar wind to stabilize it with the one remaining reaction wheel so it can stay pointed in the right direction. The extended “K2” mission has proven to be a huge success. With the newly discovered planets, the K2 tally is at 292 exoplanets. Kepler has detected over 2,400 total exoplanets in its life, and a further 2,000 candidate signals are awaiting verification.

Kepler’s candidates require verification to determine if they are actual planets and not another object, such as a small star, mimicking a planet. Image and captions by NASA
Kepler’s candidates require verification to determine if they are actual planets and not another object, such as a small star, mimicking a planet. Image and captions by NASA

To confirm the existence of the new 95 exoplanets, astronomers from the Technical University of Denmark’s National Space Institute analyzed 275 candidate signals from the K2 data. Kepler detects exoplanets by watching for dips in luminance from stars. That could indicate a planet in orbit of that star passed in front of it from our perspective, but all Kepler data needs to be verified with additional observations before we can say for certain there’s a new planet out there. In this case, 149 of the candidate planets turned out to be real, and 95 of them were newly discovered.

The exoplanets range from gas giants like Jupiter to small, likely rocky planets like Earth. One in particular will pique the interest of astronomers. A planet around the star HD 212657 has a 10-day orbit, and the star is the brightest known to host a detectable exoplanet. A bright star makes it easier for astronomers to study the planet as it passes between the alien sun and Earth. Even ground-based observatories can gather data about these planets. With thousands more potential Kepler planets to scan, more planets like this one are sure to be lurking out there.

Continue reading

NASA Discovers Vital Organic Molecule on Titan
NASA Discovers Vital Organic Molecule on Titan

In the latest analysis, researchers from NASA have identified an important, highly reactive organic molecule in Titan's atmosphere. Its presence suggests the moon could support chemical processes that we usually associate with life.

Astronomer Excitedly Announces He Has Discovered Mars
Astronomer Excitedly Announces He Has Discovered Mars

Everyone dreams of making a famous discovery at some point in their life. Few of us manage to rediscover an entire planet.

New Graphene Discovery Could Finally Punch the Gas Pedal, Drive Faster CPUs
New Graphene Discovery Could Finally Punch the Gas Pedal, Drive Faster CPUs

A new discovery removes substantial roadblocks around graphene adoption and could spur the long-term use of the material in modern semiconductor manufacturing.

NASA Makes New Discovery With 22-Year-Old Galileo Data From Ganymede
NASA Makes New Discovery With 22-Year-Old Galileo Data From Ganymede

NASA researchers have gone over telemetry from a 1996 Ganymede flyby in order to analyze some data that sat ignored all these years.