An international team of scientists analyzing the data from the K2 mission from the Kepler satellite has confirmed the existence of 95 new exoplanets. This brings the total for the K2 mission to almost 300 and the total number of exoplanets known to over 3,600.
The discovery will be published in the Astrophysical Journal in roughly a month's time, but a preprint can be accessed here. Kepler was launched in 2009 to study planets that transit in front of their parent stars. It has been an extremely successful mission but a failure in 2013 forced the researchers to change how the craft is operated. And thus, the K2 mission was born.
“This research has been underway since the first K2 data release in 2014," lead author Andrew Mayo, from the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, said in a statement. "We started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets. In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries.”
Since the discovery of the first exoplanets in the early 1990s, technology has made it much easier to spot these faint and distant objects. Nonetheless, researchers and citizen scientists have to do a lot of work to go from a candidate signal to an actual discovery. The team behind this research went through hundreds of signals trying to undeniably prove their nature, one way or another.
“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,” explained Mayo.
The research is adding to the now extensive library of exoplanets that we are forming but it also has some pretty interesting findings in its own right. For example, it discovered a planet orbiting a very bright star.
“We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by either the Kepler or K2 missions to host a validated planet," added Mayo. "Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories.”
Exoplanet research might not have been around for long but it is providing us with a novel understanding of how planetary systems form, taking us a step closer to putting the solar system in a galactic context.