In an amazing breakthrough, data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has led to the discovery of 24 new planets beyond the borders of our solar system and the confirmation of 20 others, reports Science Daily.
The news comes from the University of Tokio in Japan, which recently announced the confirmation of 44 exoplanets, all spotted "in one go." This is by far the largest number of confirmed extrasolar planets to ever be unveiled all at once.
In most cases, astronomers are usually able to confirm up to a dozen new exoplanets in one swoop. This time, however, data from Kepler's second mission, known as K2, has yielded the "largest haul of extrasolar planets" ever achieved, notes the Japanese university.
The incredible find is described in an exciting study published in The Astronomical Journal, which also notes that more than two dozen planet candidates have been additionally uncovered in the process.
The credit belongs to an international team of researchers led by John Livingston, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo. The team made their jaw-dropping discovery after combing through data from K2's Campaign 10, which unfolded in 2016, from July 6 through September 20, according to NASA.
The 44 alien worlds that have just been confirmed are wonderfully diverse and range from planets as small as Venus to super-Earths, sub-Neptunes, and sub-Saturns, reveals the new study.
"Sixteen were in the same size class as Earth, one in particular turning out to be extremely small — about the size of Venus — which was a nice affirmation as it's close to the limit of what is possible to detect," said Livingston, who noted that he found it "gratifying to verify so many small planets."But wait, there's more. Among the richly diversified planet catch, the team spotted four exoplanets that orbit their parent stars in less than 24 hours — a rare class of "ultrashort-period" planets that might actually turn out to be more common than we think if more discoveries continue to pile on.
"In other words, a year on each of those planets is shorter than a day here on Earth," explains Livingston.
Other fascinating finds include 18 planets in several multiplanet systems that might help us learn more about the workings of our own solar system, notes Newsweek.
"The study of other worlds has much to teach us about our own," says Livingston. "The investigation of other solar systems can help us understand how planets and even our own solar system formed."
These recently discovered 24 planets bring the total number of confirmed exoplanets found during the K2 mission to 347. As the Inquisitr previously reported, this second enterprise of NASA's veteran telescope kicked off in 2014, after a technical failure cut short Kepler's original planet-hunting mission a year before.The 44 planets detailed in the study were confirmed using data from both NASA's Kepler and the Gaia space telescope, operated by the European Space Agency. The results were corroborated with the help of ground-based telescopes, including a large telescope at Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona.
All in all, the discovery "enhanced the number of currently known super-Earths, sub-Neptunes, and sub-Saturns orbiting bright stars by approximately 4 percent, 17 percent, and 11 percent, respectively," the authors detailed in their paper.
The great news is that, aside from the 44 confirmed exoplanets, the team uncovered 27 planet candidates, "most of which are likely to be real," shows the study. This could mean that more extrasolar planets might be announced in the near future.