On Tuesday, NASA scientists confirmed that 1,284 newfound space objects in our galaxy are indeed exoplanets. The fresh crop of new worlds was harvested by NASA’s veteran space telescope Kepler, which has spotted to date 2,325 alien worlds.
Scientists believe that nine of the newly found exoplanets may be habitable since they orbit their host stars at a distance that allows them to hold liquid water on their surface.
A team of researchers has also published a research paper on the findings in the Astrophysical Journal, detailing a quicker method to validate candidate exoplanets.
The initial method required Kepler to scour the sky and look for dips in the light of the 150,000 visible stars. Changes in starlight indicate that a planet may be passing across its host star’s disc.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Kepler observatory detected over 4,500 possible exoplanets. Yet, the old method is not reliable since many celestial events can mimic a planet’s transition. For instance, if two stars are locked in a binary system, one star transiting the other one may trick the space telescope into believing that it has just found an exoplanet.
As a result, astronomers had to confirm each exoplanet by looking at additional data gathered by space and ground telescopes. Timothy Morton, the lead author of the latest study and researcher at Princeton University, noted that the old method was both time and resource consuming.
Morton’s team came up with a method that uses probability calculations to simplify the process. Researchers claim that their new technique can tell a genuine exoplanet from a fake candidate with 99 percent accuracy.
Scientists now need only two bits of information: what is the chance of an observed signal to be a real planet and what is the probability of having an impostor. The team successfully tested the probabilistic method on 984 exoplanets that had been previously confirmed using traditional methods.
NASA researchers know that detecting a genuine alien planet is not easy since 60% to 70% are false-positives. But when the new method was applied on 4,302 potential exoplanets, including 984 that were confirmed, Morton’s team discovered 1,284 new exoplanets that scientists had missed. About 1,327 more candidate planets now need to be validated using other methods, while 707 were confirmed as likely fakes.
Additionally, NASA scientists are convinced that the number of actual exoplanets in our galaxy is far larger since Kepler can only see the worlds that happen to align with its line of sight.
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