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Scientists working with data from the Kepler mission have discovered an additional 18 Earth-sized worlds. The team used a newer, more stringent method of combing through the data to find these planets. Among the 18 is the smallest exoplanet ever found.
The Kepler mission was very successful and we now know of more than 4,000 exoplanets in distant solar systems. But there’s an understood sampling error in the Kepler data: it was easier for the spacecraft to find large planets rather than small ones. Most of the Kepler exoplanets are enormous worlds, close in size to the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.
Objects - Objects - Team - Scientists - Germany
It’s easy to understand why this is so. Obviously, larger objects are easier to find than smaller objects. But a team of scientists in Germany have developed a way to scour Kepler’s data and they’ve found 18 small planets that are about the size of Earth. This is significant.
“Our new algorithm helps to draw a more realistic picture of the exoplanet population in space.”
Michael - Hippke - Sonneberg - Observatory
Michael Hippke, Sonneberg Observatory.
In case you’re not familiar with planet-hunting techniques, and the Kepler spacecraft specifically, it used what’s called the “transit method” of finding planets. Each time a planet passes in front of its star, that’s called a transit. Kepler was finely-tuned to detect the drop in starlight caused by an exoplanet’s transit.
Drop - Starlight - Kepler - Purpose - Kepler
The drop in starlight is miniscule, and very hard to detect. But Kepler was built for the purpose. The Kepler spacecraft, in combination with follow-up observations with other telescopes, could also determine the size of the planet, and even get an indication of the planet’s density and other characteristics.
Scientists strongly suspected that the Kepler data was not representative of the population of exoplanets because of the sampling bias. It all comes down to the specifics of how Kepler uses the transit method to find...
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