Scientists have discovered almost 100 new planets outside of our solar system


Scientists have discovered almost 100 new planets outside of our solar system

Exoplanets

Exoplanets

Researchers studied information from the K2 Kepler telescope mission, which aims to track down new exoplanets across the universe.

An worldwide team of researchers made the discovery while analyzing 275 potential exoplanet candidates that showed up in the Kepler data during the spacecraft's second mission, called K2. This research has been underway since the first K2 release in 2014.

To find these, scientists use a space telescope to track dips in light caused by the shadow of an exoplanet crossing in front of its host star.

In addition to Mayo, researchers from NASA, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Tokyo all took part in this current hunt. "In turn, 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries". But in May 2013, the second of Kepler's four orientation-maintaining "reaction wheels" failed, and the spacecraft lost its superprecise pointing ability, bringing the original mission to a close. It also only works if the planet orbits between the observer (us, or rather the Kepler telescope) and its star.

Some 3,600 exoplanets have been found since the first one, 51 Pegasi b, was discovered orbiting a Sun-like star in 1995.

It allowed researchers to uncover a new field of exoplanets, raising hopes for the prospect of life beyond earth.

It's a major breakthrough that reveals new planets that range in size from smaller than Earth to celestial bodies even bigger than Jupiter.

Mr Mayo said: "We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft".

Just like the planets in the solar system range in size from the tiny Mercury (18 of it could fit inside Earth) to the huge Jupiter (about 1,300 Earths could fit inside it), exoplanets come in a variety of sizes and masses too - some smaller than the moon and others a few times larger than Jupiter. The discovery was deemed significant because the bright star enables the planets to be observed from "ground-based observatories".

Mr Mayo said: "Exoplanets are a very exciting field of space science".

The goal is to eventually track down exoplanets that are rocky, habitable, Earth-sized planets that could be capable of supporting life.

But mission managers figured out a way to stabilize Kepler using sunlight pressure, and the spacecraft soon embarked on its K2 mission, which involves exoplanet hunting on a more limited basis, as well as observing comets and asteroids in our own solar system, supernovas and a range of other objects and phenomena.