Astronomers Discover 80 New Exoplanet Candidates

Posted: Jun 23 2018, 4:35pm CDT | by , Updated: Jun 25 2018, 1:26am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Astronomers Find 80 New Exoplanet Candidates
Credit: NASA Kepler Mission/Dana Berry

Researchers made this discovery in record time within weeks after the availability of NASA K2 mission's raw data

MIT researchers working with data sent back from NASA’s K2 mission have found a treasure trove of possible new exoplanets. The finding involves nearly 80 previously unknown alien worlds, suggesting that many more could be lurking beyond the solar system.

One of the most interesting candidates discovered in this study is an exoplanet orbiting a very bright star. The star, named HD 73344, is likely the brightest star ever found by the K2 mission with a planet. The exoplanet orbits its host star every 15 days and is estimated to be about 2.5 times the size of the Earth. As the planet lies relatively close to its star, it has an incredibly hot atmosphere with a temperature ranging somewhere between 1,200 to 1,300 degrees Celsius. This is comparable to the temperature of lava from an erupting volcano.

"We think it would probably be more like a smaller, hotter version of Uranus or Neptune.”Ian Crossfield, a professor of physics at MIT and lead author of the study said.

The findings are based on K2, the follow-up mission to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. The data from K2 mission comprise of light curves – graphs of light intensity from individual stars in the sky. A dip in starlight indicates the presence of a possible planet as it passes in front of its star.

The most remarkable thing about the discovery is the speed with which it was made. Using algorithms developed at MIT, researchers quickly analyzed data from K2's 16th and 17th observing campaigns and managed to identify planetary candidates inside 50,000 stars just weeks after the availability of raw data. Usually, it takes several months or even years to come up with such results.

Researchers are hoping to learn more about these exoplanet candidates by using data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS, which is designed to monitor more than 200,000 stars during its two-year survey of the solar neighborhood.

"We found one of the most exciting planets that K2 has found in its entire mission, and we did it more rapidly than any effort has done before," said Crossfield. "This is showing the path forward for how the TESS mission is going to do the same thing in spades, all over the entire sky, for the next several years."

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