An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of nearly 100 new exoplanets – planets located outside our solar system. The discovery was based on data from the second mission of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope or K2 released in 2014.
K2 searches for exoplanet transits by registering dips in light caused by the shadow of an exoplanet as it crosses in front of its host star. The researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft.
But they also detected planets that range from sub Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger. One of the planets detected was 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 K2 missions to host a validated planet,” said lead author Andrew Mayo, doctoral student at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.
For the study, appearing in the Astronomical Journal, the team 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, Mayo said. The Kepler spacecraft was first launched in 2009 to hunt for exoplanets in a single patch of sky, but in 2013 a mechanical failure crippled the telescope.
However, astronomers and engineers devised a way to repurpose and save the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically. This solution paved the way for the follow up K2 mission. Adding the newly discovered exoplanets brings the total number of exoplanets by K2 mission to almost 300, the study said.
The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995. Today some 3,600 exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter.