NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continues to find exoplanets upon entering its K2 phase. The telescope has confirmed the presence of at least 100 more planets orbiting other stars.
Recently, Kepler malfunctioned, preventing it from pointing precisely at certain areas in space and monitoring them for long periods of time. After repair, it can now monitor areas for shorter periods of up to 80 days.
Kepler, the most successful exoplanet hunter confirming more than 1,000 exoplanets, uses the transit method of planetary detection. It has the capability of detecting small dips in light of distant stars created as a planet passes in front of the star. This dip in light is much too small to detect using most other telescopes. Based on the length and size of the light decrease, astronomers can calculate the size and orbital distance of the planet.
During the first five 80-day periods, Kepler has spied on over 60,000 stars. So far, 100 exoplanets have been confirmed with 234 awaiting confirmation.
In the K2 phase of its mission, Kepler has been looking for planets around larger, brighter stars. These stars are also closer to Earth than stars Kepler would typically look at, making it easier for follow up observations with other telescopes.
“We are focusing on stars that are much brighter, stars that are nearer by, stars that are more easy to understand and observe from the Earth. The idea here is to find the best systems, the most interesting systems,” said Tom Barclay of NASA.
Many of the planets Kepler has found in K2 are present in multiple planet systems, 42 in fact. 58 of the planets were not found around stars without any other planets, at least not with any that have been discovered. Some of the highlights of the find include three super Earths orbiting one star and a planet being ripped apart in its orbit. A planet found orbiting in the habitable zone of a two-star system was also confirmed.
Kepler is not only looking at exoplanets but other deep sky objects such as supernovas as well. It has also even been used to spy on some of the planets in our own solar system such as Uranus and Neptune.
“This is the best view, the longest view of Neptune we’ve ever had—this thing we’ve known about for hundreds of years,” said Barcley.
The Kepler Space Telescope has greatly exceeded expectations and continues to be a very effective exoplanet hunter in the K2 phase of its mission.