Say Hello To 1200 New Neighbors

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An artist’s impression of some of the planetary discoveries made by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Photo: W. Stenzel/NASA

Exoplanet neighbors, that is. Not one. Or two. But more than 1200 of them.

Researchers on NASA’s Kepler planet hunting mission announced 1,200+ new exoplanets. This announcement more than doubles the number of confirmed planets in the catalog which previously listed 1,041 confirmations.

Jeff Coughlin, a SETI Institute researcher who helps NASA put together the Kepler catalog, said that the 1,284 new planets are validated to 99 percent certainty, meaning, they are all almost certainly planets.

These new planets are the result of a new software that enabled Kepler researchers to clear out the signal from noise in candidate planets. But the real strength of the software lies in its ability to process hundreds of candidates at once. Compare that to the time it took to analyze one target at a time. It used to be a long, intensive process.

Kepler captures the discrete signals of distant planets — decreases in brightness that occur when planets pass in front of their stars. Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system in the 1990s, researchers could only verify potential planet candidates one-by-one.

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Illustration: NASA

Now, thanks to the software advancement, exoplanet hunting has suddenly become faster.

The researchers used an automated software developed at Princeton University known as Vespa that allows scientists to determine if a Kepler signal is caused by a planet.

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Illustration: NASA

In this newly validated group, about 550 could be terrestrial planets like Earth. Nine of these – Kepler-560 b, Kepler-705 b, Kepler-1229 b, Kepler-1410 b, Kepler-1455 b, Kepler-1544 b, Kepler-1593 b, Kepler-1606 b and Kepler-1638 b — orbit in their Sun’s habitable zone.

That increases the size of the “Habitable Neighbors Club” to a whopping 21.

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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Posted in astronomy, science news

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