Tech2 News StaffMay 28, 2019 14:14:53 IST
In the continuous search for planets similar to the dimensions and conditions of the Earth, scientists have just made a great turn: eighteen recently discovered planets outside the solar system, including one of the smallest known exoplanets and another that may be habitable.
Previous studies had neglected these extrasolar planets due to their small size, according to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany. The research, published in Two documents in the diary Astronomy and astrophysics re-analysis of data collected by Kepler telescope from NASA along with a new, more sensitive method to detect the exoplanets developed by the team.
Also read: NASA dismantles the Kepler telescope after nine years of hunting and discoveries of extrasolar planets
The study estimates that this new technique, called the minimum squares transit survey, opens the door to the discovery of over 100 additional extrasolar planets in the data that the mission of Kepler has already collected, according to the study.
Regarding the future discoveries of new worlds in the neighborhood of our solar system, scientists estimate that there are about 4,000 planets orbiting our solar system. Of them, 96% of them appear to be significantly larger than our Earth, with most comparable to gas giants like Neptune or Jupiter. While the percentage is overwhelmingly overwhelming towards massive exoplanets, it could be very different in reality, since the smaller planets are much more difficult to track than the larger ones.
Relatively small exoplanets are fascinating targets for potentially habitable Earth-like planets outside the solar system. The smallest of the eighteen in the study is only 69 percent of the size of the Earth and the largest of them twice as large as the Earth.
For exoplanets, a style does not fit everyone
Scientists often use the "transit method" to look for stars that create periodic drops in brightness as it passes in front of its star. If a star happens to have a planet whose orbital plane is aligned with the line of sight from the Earth, the planet hides a small fraction of the starlight as it passes in front of the star once per orbit. This however does not work very well in the case of small planets, which are much more difficult to locate. The effect they have on the visible light of a star is so weak that the fluctuations and noise from the space that comes with any type of spatial observation make the method useless.
Now, the team has shown that the transit method can be greatly improved if a more realistic light curve is assumed in the search algorithm. The new algorithm looks for characteristic gradual attenuation and restoration as one would expect from a smaller exoplanet. This makes the new transit search algorithm much more sensitive to small Earth-sized planets.
"Our new algorithm helps to draw a more realistic picture of the population of exoplanets in space", Michael Hippke of the Sonneberg Observatory say PTI. "This method is a significant step forward, especially in the search for Earth-like planets," he added.
Baths, new worlds
"In most of the planetary systems we have studied, the new planets are the smallest," Kai Rodenbeck, one of the authors of the Goettingen University study, Germany say PTI.
Most newly formed planets orbit their nearest star of their previous planetary companions. For this reason, they also have much warmer surface temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius, some even up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. That being said, there is an exception to this: small planets that orbit red dwarf stars in the so-called "habitable zone".
At this appropriate distance from the host star, there is a good chance that the planet offers conditions for liquid water that exists on its surface – a prerequisite for life (as we know it) on Earth.
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. (tagToTranslate) Astronomy (t) astrophysics (t) exoplanet (t) Exoplanet Research (t) Habitable zone (t) Kepler Space Telescope (t) Max Planck Institute for research on the solar system (t) NASA (t) NASA Kepler ( t) SciTech (t) Solar system (t) Space (t) survey on minimum squares of transit