NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft, which was recently revamped, has discovered 100 new planets orbiting other stars.
The $600-million mission, Kepler, which was launched in 2009, recently got crippled by a mechanical malfunction. It lost the ability to stare at the same spot in 2013. The spacecraft underwent a few tweaks to get it back in order, resulting in the K2 mission. It can no longer observe the same spot indefinitely, as now the same patch of sky can only be observed for about 80 days at a time.
Tom Barclay, Senior Research Scientist at NASA, said, “It’s probing different types of planets [than the original Kepler mission]. We have had to innovate, but it’s working well. The first five of the K2 campaigns each observed a different part of the sky and found 7,000 transit-like signals. These signals went through a validation process to narrow down the planet candidates, which were then validated.”
The K2 has discovered many newly-found planets 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. Apart from that it has spotted a planet in the Hyades star cluster, which is the nearest open star cluster to Earth. And it has discovered a planet being ripped apart as it orbits a white dwarf star. Astronomers have also found 234 possible planets that are awaiting confirmation.
The K2 mission is also trying to spot planets wandering the galaxy without their own stars.
“We are focusing on stars that are much brighter, stars that are nearer by, stars that are easier to understand and observe from the Earth. The idea here is to find the best systems, the most interesting systems,” added Barclay.
The information about the planets was shared by University of Arizona’s Ian Crossfield at a conference of the American Astronomical Society.