An international team of scientists have announced the discovery of 95 new planets outside of our own solar system.
To date we’ve discovered some 3,600 exoplanets and almost all of that has been down to the Kepler space telescope.
Having collected an almost unimaginable amount of data, researchers have spent the last few years trawling through it trying to identify possible new planets and above all else, trying to identify planets that could support life.
“We started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets. In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries,” said American PhD student Andrew Mayo at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.
In addition to Mayo, researchers from NASA, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Tokyo all took part in this current hunt.
As a testament to how difficult the task is, this international team carefully looked through hundreds of signals from Kepler in order to filter out those that could be potential planets.
“We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft. But we also detected planets that range from sub Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger,” said Mayo.
How does Kepler discover new planets?
Despite being one of the most advanced pieces of equipment in space, Kepler’s ability to discover new planets stems from a remarkably simple trick.
When we look towards a star system we have the potential to glimpse something known as a transit. This is when any planet orbiting the star passes in front of it from our point of view.
By constantly monitoring a region of space every few hours, Kepler is able to detect the minuscule drop in light from a single star as a planet passes in front of it.
What’s perhaps even more remarkable is that just by looking at this data scientists can determine its size, distance from the star and even some basic information about its composition and atmosphere.
Kepler has been so successful at capturing these transits that many of the new discoveries we’ve made by trawling through the vast quantities of data that Kepler has captured in the past.