BEACON TRANSCRIPT – The Consumer Electronics Show wasn’t the only big conference this week, but most only know of the goings on in Las Vegas. While companies were presenting their newest device at CES, astronomers have been presenting their findings at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Many new things were revealed to the public, and among them was that Kepler resumed its program, found over 100 exoplanets.
After having malfunctioned sometime in 2013, the Kepler spaceship resumed its scouting efforts. NASA’s spacecraft was designed to search for planets similar to our own, but after an unfortunate mechanical failure, it had lost its ability to do so.
Fixed, and with a new mission name – K2 – the spaceship has already encountered over 300 planets, 234 of which are still awaiting confirmation.
100 of them, however, were already confirmed to be similar to Earth, although with the new mission also came some different parameters for the search.
Some of the 100 confirmed planets are definitely different from what the spaceship observed during its initial mission – some are in multi-planet systems, others orbit stars much hotter and brighter than the original parameters of the Kepler mission, and some are simply different.
Tom Barclay, from NASA’s Ames Research Center, says that the focus now is on different types of stars – stars much brighter, closer, and easier to observe and understand from Earth. The point to this new approach is to find the most feasible and interesting to observe systems.
For example, the new revamped mission observed a star as it was being torn apart by a white dwarf star, a planet in one of the globular star clusters closest to Earth – Hyades, and even three exoplanets that are much larger than our own.
Over its previous four year run, the Kepler was pointed at the same patch of space, waiting for temporary increases and decreases in light sources, which would indicate orbiting planets. During its run, the mission discovered over 1000 new Earth-like planets.
With the new mission parameters, astronomers are excited to also check out our own back yard; this, of course, means that they are examining the planets in our solar system.
They looked at Neptune, Uranus, and Jupiter, and learned and saw more about our closest neighbors than was ever known before.
Another new target of the K2 mission will to look for planets wandering the galaxy in the absence of a star. Without a star to orbit, they would just free float through space, theoretically indefinitely.
Image source: Wikimedia