Big, Beautiful Pictures Of 4 New Planets That Could Have Life On Them
Science@NASA and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Habitable zone planets (from left to right) Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f are shown here to scale relative to Earth.
A total of 715 new planets were recently found in our region of the Milky Way, almost doubling the number of exoplanets we know of. NASA announced the find, made using the Kepler space telescope and a revolutionary new technique, on February 27.
From the launch of the Kepler telescope in 2009 to 2011, scientists detected 3,600 potential planets. They detected the planets by measuring slight dips in the brightness of nearby stars as the planets passed in front of them like below:
This was effective, but left the scientists with a new task — to confirm these are planets and not some other weird space event, they had to figure out how to distinguish the real planets from the fakes.
To do that, they used a new technique that they called "verification by multiplicity," which relies on probability. Here's how NASA explains it :
Kepler observes 150,000 stars, and has found a few thousand of those to have planet candidates. If the candidates were randomly distributed among Kepler's stars, only a handful would have more than one planet candidate. However, Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates. Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.
Basically, they looked for clusters of candidate planets and stars and then sifted more closely to identify authentic planets. It’s pretty brilliant.
Check out the change in the number of planet discoveries since they began using the new method: