104 New Exoplanets Discovered by NASA’s Kepler Telescope

NASA says 104 new exoplanets have been discovered by the Kepler telescope during its K2 mission. These 104 new exoplanets, so called for being a planet that orbits a sun outside our solar system, have been confirmed out of a possible 197 candidate exoplanets.

The K2 mission, which started in 2014 following a catastrophic malfunction to the Kelper’s original function, allowed for the 104 new exoplanets to be discovered through a new method. Originally, Kepler used a series of three reaction wheels to keep the satellite stabilized in a specific field of vision. This allowed the Kelper to look for the fluctuations in starlight while the exoplanets passed across the 150,000 stars in the satellite’s field of vision, according to the Washington Post. However, the failure of one of the wheels made it near impossible to keep the craft stable.

[Photo By Nasa/Getty Images]

With a stroke of genius, the crew used some fancy programming to allow for the force generated by the Sun to keep the Kepler in a designated orbit for up to 80 days, at which point they need to reposition it again due to solar forces. This allowed for the Kepler to start a new mission, named K2, where it would start examining the exoplanets and cooler, smaller, red-dwarf type planets, those that have more in common with the Milky Way than our Sun, as stated by Cosmos.

“An analogy would be to say that Kepler performed a demographic study, while the K2 mission focuses on the bright and nearby stars with different types of planets,” according to lead author Ian Crossfield of the University of Arizona.

One of the most interesting things in the discovery of the 104 new exoplanets is the further discovery of a cluster of exoplanets that could potentially harbor life. These exoplanets are larger than Earth and orbit the M dwarf star named K2-72. It is 181 light years away in the direction of the Aquarius constellation.

[Image via Shutterstock]

Of the four rocky exoplanets that may potential hold life orbiting K2-72, two of those planets may have radiation levels similar to Earth’s. Even though the exoplanets are bigger in size and orbit their sun closer than Mercury orbit’s ours, the K2-72 dwarf is both smaller and dimmer than our Sun, it can take between five and a half to 24 Earth days for the exoplanets to orbit K2-72.

“This bountiful list of validated exoplanets from the K2 mission highlights the fact that the targeted examination of bright stars and nearby stars along the ecliptic is providing many interesting new planets,” said Steve Howell, the project scientist for the K2 mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, stated in a release by NASA. “These targets allow the astronomical community ease of follow-up and characterization, providing a few gems for first study by the James Webb Space Telescope, which could perhaps tell us about the planets’ atmospheres.”

These 104 new exoplanets were confirmed by follow-up observations by earth-based telescopes, including the North Gemini telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the Automated Planet Finder of the University of California Observatories, and the Large Binocular Telescope operated by the University of Arizona, according to NASA. To validate the exoplanets, scientists used high-resolution images and high-resolution spectrographs, which allowed the researchers to infer the mass, radius, and temperature of the star, allowing them to infer the properties of the exoplanets in orbit.

The 104 new exoplanets are the largest amount of confirmed exoplanets in the K2 mission, but the Kepler has also confirmed more than 2,000 exoplanets in its previous mission, many believed to be capable of supporting life. Many of the exoplanets being reported on recently have been from their previous mission, however, these 104 new exoplanets allow for NASA to transition into other upcoming projects, including the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and James Webb Space Telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch in 2018, a good potential for NASA to start with are these 104 new exoplanets, specifically K2-72.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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