General, Research, Technology

Hundreds, thousands: what is important in the “newly discovered” exoplanets?

It may seem that NASA is constantly declaringthe discovery of “new” earth-type exoplanets, because from time to time news on this subject slip on the main page of our site. It is always interesting to know that somewhere there may be a planet on which life can nest. And all this thanks to the extremely successful Kepler space telescope, which uses the twinkling and darkening of distant stars to find planets in their orbits. However, Kepler’s latest discovery (219 new planetary candidates, 10 of which are the size of the Earth and are in the Goldilocks zone) was the last: yesterday the latest official planetary search results were presented according to the Kepler’s mission.

This must be comprehended. In the end, Kepler’s space telescope is still in space and is looking for new planets - and will probably continue to do so for another year. But the primary mission of the telescope ended prematurely, when in 2013 everything went to dust. The telescope has four wheels that hold it in the direction of a certain section of the sky so that it can observe any inconspicuous flicker of stars indicating the presence of a planet. And two wheels broke. Instead of completely curtailing the mission of the device, NASA engineers were able to use the sun as a virtual wheel; the physical strength of the light striking Kepler's solar panels holds him in place, while all the other wheels push in the opposite direction. Kepler got a second chance with a new mission called K2.

K2 has already found several exoplanets, itsright, but her tasks are slightly different. During his first mission, Kepler looked at one part of the sky in search of planetary activity among the 150,000 stars in our outer space. K2 depends on the position of the sun; The telescope cannot simply be directed where scientists want. And as soon as they choose a suitable target - with interesting stars and so that the sun can help - scientists have about 80 days before the telescope moves again. K2 found (and will find) new planets, but the volume of its data is not nearly comparable to the volume of the original mission.

And that brings us back to the latest NASA news: four years after Kepler's hardware failure, the massive catalog of data he collected was finally combed through to NASA's full satisfaction.

“All the data from Kepler’s original mission wasanalyzed several times, ”says Charlie Sobek, mission manager Kepler and K2. “This last catalog is a reanalysis using advanced software, which makes the catalog especially useful for compiling statistical conclusions. These are the final planet search results. ”

New data analysis brings the totalplanetary candidates (possible planets that do not have to be confirmed) up to 4034. A little more than half of them were confirmed by other telescopes. Of the 50 planets that should be of terrestrial size and located in a potentially habitable zone of the star, only 30 have been confirmed.

A new analysis also revealed something about planetaryfamily tree: by measuring the exact size of some of Kepler’s planets, scientists have discovered that “small” planets (fewer gas giants like Jupiter) fall into two distinct categories. They are either relatively close to Earth’s size (some super-Earths are several times more massive than our planet, but this is also relatively close by space standards), or closer to Neptune in size, form “gas dwarfs”, or “mini-Neptunes”. The analysis shows that new planets are often quite close to the Earth in size, but some of them take a dose of gas that brings them closer to the heavier class.

“We like to compare this study, thisclassifying planets so biologists identify new species of animals, ”says Benjamin Fulton, Ph.D., from the University of Hawaii at Mano. “The discovery of two different groups of exoplanets is akin to the discovery of individual branches of life, mammals and lizards.”

Determining where on the planetary spectrumEarth and its close relatives are located, it can help us determine how planets evolve - and finally, how often they evolve with all the components that make life possible on Earth. Kepler did an amazing job of developing planetology. And although this was technically done with the first part of the mission, it is likely that scientists will continue to find a strange planet from their massive dataset from time to time.