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Three exoplanets have been discovered in the latest Kepler observational data

Three exoplanets have been discovered in the latest Kepler observational data

Thanks to amateur help, three of what may be the last exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope before it was decommissioned have now been found. According to NASA, Internet volunteers detected traces of the three celestial bodies in the data Kepler had collected over the past month before it was disabled. Two have already been confirmed later by checking other data, and the third is still awaiting verification. This discovery, more than four and a half years after Kepler shut down, once again shows what discoveries may still be waiting in this vast trove of data.

The revolutionary space telescope Kepler was told to decommission on November 15, 2018. The instrument could no longer hold its position in space due to a lack of fuel. The exoplanet hunter initially constantly observed tens of thousands of stars in a narrow region of the sky so that he could infer which planets passed in front of them from small fluctuations in brightness—this is called the transit method. Due to technical problems, the probe was later modified with a hoax so that it could operate until the fuel supply ran out. However, on this second K2 mission, Kepler had to target new stars more frequently.

The nineteenth and truly final campaign of this second research program lasted just a month before closing, NASA now explains. The space telescope could not stay in position long enough to make useful observations. Only seven days of high-quality data remained. In collaboration with citizen scientists, a team led by Elise Encha of the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked for signs of a power outage. In fact, they’ve had great success where automated systems have failed. For two of the three exoplanets detected in this way, more obscurations were found later in the qualitatively less good data and thus necessary confirmation.

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This is how the exoplanet K2-416 b was discovered, which is about two and a half times the size of Earth and orbits a red dwarf star about once every 13 days. K2-417 b also orbits such a dwarf star, but it only takes six and a half days to do so. Just over three times the size of Earth, its footprint has already been spotted in space telescope data, according to NASA. Not yet confirmed is EPIC 246251988 b, which is four times the size of Earth and takes 10 days to orbit. Meanwhile, a member of the group that looked at the K’ data believes there are more discoveries hidden in there.

Kepler was launched in 2009 and greatly accelerated the search for planets outside the solar system. Of the more than 5,400 confirmed exoplanets, more than half have been discovered with Kepler, and nearly 2,000 alleged planet candidates from the Space Telescope’s dataset are still awaiting confirmation. Kepler’s successor in space is NASA’s TESS Space Telescope, which currently contains exactly 333 confirmed exoplanets. Since they both rely on the so-called transit method to search for exoplanets, it is the most productive so far. More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered in this way. The discovery of the three candidates from Kepler’s latest observational campaign is now on Submitted in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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An interactive graphic is included in the article, which was created and provided by the Berlin service provider Datawrapper. For data protection in Datawrapper, see their own Data protection. No personal or personal data is collected from interactive chart readers.


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