Researchers Identify Two 'Species' Of Exoplanets: Kepler Planet Family Gets Two Distinct Branches

Lorenzo Tanos

Just like creatures in the animal kingdom, exoplanets could have species too. That's how the two distinct branches of exoplanets were termed in a new study on so-called Kepler planets.

A report from Big Island Now took a look at the study led by California Institute of Technology researchers, who discovered that the planets spotted from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA's Kepler mission can mostly be divided into two branches — one "species" including rocky, Earth-like planets and so-called "super-Earths," and the other including gaseous, Neptune-like planets orbiting distant stars.

As Big Island Now explained, Kepler planets are the ones spotted during NASA's Kepler Mission, which launched in 2009 with the goal of finding Earth-like planets. There have been over 2,300 exoplanets confirmed over the past eight years through this mission. That's more than 60 percent of the 3,500 or so exoplanets discovered since the first such planet was discovered in the mid 1990s, and with the revelation that these planets have "species," the researchers believe they may be on to something.

"Astronomers like to put things in buckets," said lead author Benjamin Fulton in a statement.

"In this case, we have found two very distinct buckets for the majority of the Kepler planets."

The researchers, which included scientists from Caltech, the University of California in Berkeley, the University of Hawaii, Harvard, and other institutions, made use of the Keck Observatory's HIRES (High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) instrument to determine the size of the Kepler planets. Big Island Now added that the scientists spent multiple years gathering this data and coming up with sizes for orbiting planets that were four times more accurate than established statistics from previous studies.

"Getting the spectra from Keck Observatory is like going out and grabbing a magnifying glass. We could see details that we couldn't before."

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