Sizes of the 17 new planet candidates, compared to Mars, Earth and Neptune. The planet in green is KIC-7340288 b, a rare rocky planet in the Habitable Zone.

(Michelle Kunimoto / EurekaAlerts)

Among the objects seen, a particular planet candidate has been gathering eyeballs. The candidate, called KIC-7340288 b, is one and a half times larger than Earth, has a rocky surface and falls under the habitable ‘Goldilocks Zone’.

Goldilocks Zone is an area around a star that is considered habitable. Any celestial body in this area has the right temperature so that the water remains in a liquid state on a rocky surface, provided that the atmospheric pressure is optimal. The study describing the discovery was published in The Astronomical Journal this week.

“This planet is about a thousand light years away, so we won’t get there soon! But this is a really exciting find since so far only 15 small and confirmed planets have been found in the Habitable Zone in Kepler data.” said Kunimoto.

The discovered habitable planet has a year of 142 ½ Earth days and is orbiting its star at a distance of 0.444 Astronomical Units (UA). The AU unit is the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The planet’s orbit is slightly larger than Mercury’s, and the planet receives approximately one third of the Sun’s light compared to Earth.

In addition, the other 16 planets vary up to eight times the size of the Earth, being the smallest of only two thirds of the size of the Earth. If confirmed, it is likely that the smallest planet discovered by Kunimoto is the smallest planet found by Kepler so far.

The doctoral student in astronomy used the ‘transit method or transit photometry’ to observe the planets. “Every time a planet passes in front of a star, it blocks a portion of the light of that star and causes a temporary decrease in the brightness of the star. By finding these falls, known as transits, you can start gathering information about the planet , like its size and how long it takes to orbit, “Kunimoto described.

This discovery was made possible by an independent search of approximately 2,00,000 stars observed during the four-year Kepler mission. Kunimoto had also discovered four planets during his bachelor’s degree.

During its original four-year mission, the Kepler satellite searched for planets, especially those found in the “Habitable Zones” of its stars, where liquid water could exist on the surface of a rocky planet. Kunimoto also collaborated with former UBC student Henry Ngo to obtain clear tracking images of some of its stars that host planets with the Near Infrared Imaging Generator (NIRI) on the 8-meter Gemini North telescope in Hawaii .

In addition to the new planets, the researcher was able to observe thousands of known Kepler planets using the transit method and will re-analyze the census of exoplanets as a whole.

(with IANS tickets)


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