Kepler data reveals existence of 20 promising exoplanets ‘hiding in plain sight’
A large international team of researchers working with data sent back from NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found evidence of 20 previously unknown, promising exoplanets. In their paper uploaded to the arXiv preprint server, the team describes the exoplanets and highlights the ones that appear to be the most likely to fit into the Goldilocks category.
The researchers report that they used a tool called the Robovetter to sift through data from Kepler planetary sightings to winnow down the possibilities—the tool narrows down hits to those that are deemed candidates to support life. Many of the 20 exoplanets that were discovered had long orbits—one in particular, KOI-7923.01, was found to have an orbit of 395 days and was very close in size to Earth. The team found that it was also a little cooler than Earth due to its distance from its star relative to Earth’s orbit and the star being cooler. The team notes that their initial study suggested the planet is likely covered by a cold tundra, but that it is still not too cold to support life.
Unfortunately, the newly discovered planets are still not fully confirmed because Kepler ran into trouble after recording the part of the sky in which the planets are thought to exist. Thus, Kepler was only able to observe the planets two times—not nearly enough for confirmation. Despite the lack of data, the team reports that they are nearly certain that the candidates are not only planets, but are possibly habitable, as well. Ground-based observations are required to confirm the findings.
The find was derived from the photometry data sent back by the space telescope over the course of four years before trouble with its reaction wheels back in 2013. The 20 exoplanets of interest were part of a catalogue of 8,054 “Kepler Objects of Interest” that were pared down to 4,034 exoplanets that were believed to have orbits between .25 and 632 days. The 20 exoplanets sifted out are believed to represent those most likely able to support life and thus will receive the most attention over the next several years.