An international team of experts has used data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft to confirm the discovery of 100 new exoplanets. A few of these could be ideal candidates for supporting life.
Among the new worlds, there is a planetary system with four planets which look like they could be rocky. These planets are 20 per cent to 50 per cent bigger than Earth, in diameter. They ‘re orbiting the M dwarf star K2-72, at a distance of 181 light years away towards the Aquarius constellation.
The star around which they orbit is half the size of the sun and less bright. It takes between five and twenty-four days for these planets to make a complete rotation and two of them have irradiation levels similar to Earth’s.
The K2 mission allows astronomers to increase the number of small, red suns by a factor of 20, increasing the number of ideal candidates for further study. Ian Crossfield, lead author of the study, said that despite the fact that these planets have tight orbits, there is a possibility for life that cannot be ruled out.
Kepler and the K2 mission find new habitable planets by measuring the subtle decrease in a star’s brightness caused by a planet passing in front of it.
When the mission got extended, in 2013, there was a system malfunction. Since then, Kepler has been repaired, and it can now see deeper into space than ever before.
The K2 mission represents a transitional step from Hubble Telescope to future missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and a new telescope, called James Webb, set to launch in the 2020s.
The analysis shows that by the end of K2’s mission, scientists are going to double or triple the number of smaller planets orbiting bright stars located close to them. These bright stars will, in turn, illuminate the candidate planets better, leading to clearer, more spectacular images.
In just a few years, the James Webb telescope will help to measure details such as the planets’ atmospheric makeup. Until then, we can only measure their masses and some of their properties.
The K2 mission received a lot of help from an Earth-bound telescope, the W.M. Keck Observatory. It is one of the biggest and most productive telescopes on Earth, located in Hawaii.
Image Source – Wikipedia