After more than a decade in space, the Kepler spacecraft has been declared kaput. Despite this, scientists are keenly observing data recordings in its vault. Of special interest are the 18 small worlds discovered.
While most of these tiny planets were previously overlooked, they’ve become a favorite topic of conversation among scientists. There’s plenty of promise in their stature and pose. Interestingly, most of them are actually similar to Earth in size.
Even more remarkable, is the fact that one of them happens to live in an orbit capable of harboring life. Scientists are still reviewing the possibility of this being true, but, they remain hopeful of this possibility. It is said that the planet’s distance from its star is close enough to facilitate liquid water to thrive on its surface.
As for the rest, there’s little chance that liquid water exists since they lie outside the “habitable zone”. Most of them have scorching surface temperatures that reach up to 1,830 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius).
Following the discovery, one Caltech scientist, Jessie Christiansen has reported that while the findings are surreal, it’s something that was bound to happen. She shared that with enhanced data collection methods, new planets were always on the horizon.
Between 2009 and 2013, Kepler kept its sights on a single patch of the starry sky, keenly looking for signs of planets moving through their star’s faces.
From the outside, the planetary motions looked nothing but dimming starlight. However, those blips of brightness are actually quite important since they are able to guide scientists in calculating a planet’s size and orbit. When analyzing the data, it’s not uncommon to hear the planetary transits being referred to as light curves.
Thanks to the vagaries of space, a malfunction occurred which crippled the spacecraft. This made it impossible for Kepler to keep watch of a single patch of sky. Scientists repurposed the mission to check out more of the cosmos. Keeping true to the original objectives, they decided to rename the second phase of the sightseeing exploration as K2. All was going well right until 2018 when the spacecraft ran out of fuel.
After the mission came to a halt, the team behind it decided it was time to call it a day. Impressively, they were able to gather about 2,300 confirmed planets during the original Kepler mission. Following the malfunction, the successive K2 mission saw the discovery of about 500 planetary candidates.
It was the K2 mission which caught the eye of René Heller and his compadres at the Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research.
They took time to reanalyze the data using a system that was tailored at discovering Earth-sized planets. Cognizant of the fact that such diminutive worlds were harder to spot since they represent a small proportion of their star’s light, they devised a brilliant program that could detect the motions of such planets.
In principle, stars usually seem dimmer around their edges and are bright in the midsections. Because of this, it may be hard for you to notice a planet as it transits. During their motion, they hardly make noticeable dents on the edges thanks to the dim light.
With this in mind, Heller and his team of scientists rescanned most of the K2 data keenly looking for planetary transits that started off with a small dip in brightness.
To enhance their odds of success, they emphasized on stars that had at least one known planet. With the math in their favor, they set out to discover various things about our universe including just how many planets there were, the moons of the solar system, and any other pertinent information.
The K2 data was particularly appealing because conducting a data search was easier. While the primary mission boasted 2,000 confirmed planets with a single light curve being 1,600 days long, the K2 mission registered a considerable 500 confirmed planets and light curves which were only 80 days long.
From the K2 data, Heller and associates discovered 18 extra planet and 517 light curves. Of the found planets, none of them can be classed as being large. The largest of them is actually just about twice as wide as the Earth. One of the smallest measures about 70 percent of Earth’s width.
Considering that only a small fraction of data has been analyzed, it’s highly likely that there plenty more planets yet to be discovered. Once all the K2 data is analyzed, there’s a possibility that new planets will be found, and we’ll have a better understanding of just how populated our universe is.
If you’re intrigued about how many moons are in the solar system, then you should take a special interest in this kind of research. With each passing year, the moons of our solar system seem to increase as more effort is put into scientific research.
Heller has opined that he expects to discover at least a hundred more small planets concealed in the primary mission data. His view has been backed up by Christiansen who believes that the methods employed in their data review are rock-solid.
As more revelations about the Kepler and K2 missions come to light, you can be part of the action by reviewing some of the established facts about our solar system. There’s no better way to learn than by taking a closer inspection of what we already know.
At AstroReality, we’re all about discovering new frontiers. We’ve invested plenty of time and resources into mapping the layout of the cosmos using revolutionary technology like augmented reality.
Our 3D printed and AR enhanced models offer detailed visual outlooks and hands-on experience on just how celestial bodies look like. If you’re intrigued about the topic, make sure you have a gander at our Solar System Mini Set. The model will give you a glimpse of the layout of our solar system and all that it appertains. Including information about the moons of our solar system.