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Kepler scientists discover almost 100 new exoplanets

Today some 3,600 new exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter.

Scientists have discovered almost 100 new exoplanets (Image: ESA/Hubble/ESO/M. Kornmesser)


Scientists from the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark have discovered almost 100 new exoplanets using the Kepler spacecraft.

Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system. They can be found by registering dims in light caused by the shadow of the planet as it crosses in front of its host star.

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The field of exoplanets is relatively young. The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995. Today some 3,600 exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter.

Andrew Mayo, main author of the work said: “Exoplanets are a very exciting field of space science. As more planets are discovered, astronomers will develop a much better picture of the nature of exoplanets which in turn will allow us to place our own solar system into a galactic context”.

In 2009 Kepler spacecraft was launched to hunt for exoplanets in a single piece of sky, but in 2013 a mechanical failure disabled the telescope, but it was saved by changing its field of view periodically.

This solution paved the way in 2014 for the follow up K2 mission, which is still ongoing as the spacecraft searches for exoplanet transits. So far these missions have provided over 5,100 exoplanet candidates that can now be examined more closely.

It’s difficult work to distinguish which signals are actually coming from exoplanets. Mayo and his colleagues analyzed hundreds of signals of potential exoplanets thoroughly to determine which signals were created by exoplanets and which were caused by other sources.

“We started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets.” said Andrew Mayo. “We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft. But we also detected planets that range from sub Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger. In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries,” Mayo added.

“Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories.”


With new, upcoming space missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, astronomers will take exciting new steps toward characterizing and studying exoplanets like the rocky, habitable, Earth-sized planets that might be capable of supporting life.



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