Astronomers Find 366 New Possible Exoplanets

Artist impression of an exoplanet system. IMage Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine via NASA

An international team led by astronomers from the University Of California, Los Angeles reported the detection of hundreds of candidate exoplanets, including 366 that have not been identified before. So far there have been less than 5,000 confirmed exoplanets. If these are confirmed it would add many more objects to worlds that exist outside the solar system.

The work, led by Dr Jon Zink and published in The Astronomical Journal, describes a new approach in the detection of exoplanets using data collected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope’s K2 mission. The detection algorithm is capable of providing more accurate predictions of what is a possible observation and what is noise.

The best approach usually needs visual inspection of the data from people, and this work hopes to be able to move past that. The Scaling K2 project, by automatizing exoplanet-hunting with a high success rate, might mean more candidate exoplanets will be discovered.

“The catalog and planet detection algorithm that Jon and the Scaling K2 team came devised is a major breakthrough in understanding the population of planets,” co-author Professor Erik Petigura from UCLA, said in a statement. “I have no doubt they will sharpen our understanding of the physical processes by which planets form and evolve.”

The algorithm found 747 unique planet candidates and 57 multiplanet systems. Among the never seen before candidates there is a star system with two gas giant planets orbiting very quickly around their stars as well as a system whose planets are in resonance. That means that they orbit in a rhythmic way, each planet’s year is in proportion with the others.

The work looked at 500 terabytes worth of data, with the algorithm analyzing the light of stars in 800 million images. The enormity of the task is the reason why automating the approach would be beneficial time-wise.

“Discovering hundreds of new exoplanets is a significant accomplishment by itself, but what sets this work apart is how it will illuminate features of the exoplanet population as a whole,” continued Petigura.

There are many unknowns when it comes to the formation of planets and how typical star systems that look like our own are. Finding answers to these questions requires the discovery of more exoplanets and thanks to the work done with Kepler and new telescopes, we are getting them.

NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) launched 3.5 years ago has already conducted incredible observations and discovered new exoplanets, with over 2,600 candidates reported from the primary mission.  

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