NASA’s planet-hunting revamped Kepler mission has found more than 100 confirmed planets orbiting other stars.
The information about the planets, some of which are very different from what the spacecraft observed during its original mission, was shared by University of Arizona’s Ian Crossfield at a conference of the American Astronomical Society, National Geographic reported.
According to the report, many newly-found planets are in multi-planet systems and orbit stars that are brighter and hotter than the stars in the original Kepler field.
It has also found a system with three planets that are bigger than Earth, spotted a planet in the Hyades star cluster — the nearest open star cluster to Earth — and discovered a planet being ripped apart as it orbits a white dwarf star.
“Scientists have also found 234 possible planets that are awaiting confirmation,” Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said.
Meanwhile, Tom Barclay of NASA’s Ames Research Centre said that spacecraft is probing different types of planets (than the original Kepler mission).
“We are focusing on stars that are much brighter, stars that are nearer by, stars that are more easy to understand and observe from the Earth. The idea here is to find the best systems, the most interesting systems,” Barclay said.
With a mission to determine how common Earth-like planets are, Kepler stared at the same patch of star-filled sky, watching for periodic blips in starlight caused by orbiting planets and from 2009 to 2013, Kepler discovered more than 1,000 new planets.
With a tweak to its steering ability, scientists rectified the mechanical malfunction of Kepler’s lost ability to stare at the same exact spot.
Since then, K2 has been spying on supernovas, and studying planets orbiting our star.
In 2014, it spent about 70 days observing Neptune, studying the ice giant’s extremely windy weather and would also attempt to spot planets that are wandering through the galaxy without stars of their own.
Among its notable discoveries, K2 has spotted strong evidence of a tiny, rocky object being torn apart as it spirals around a white dwarf star and discovered a new planet orbiting two stars and located within its host stars’ “habitable zone”, the area around the stars in which life could potentially exist.
It also collected data to reveal that our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago and only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed.
NASA’s Kepler mission had also confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star.