NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope detects the first exoplanet candidate in 10 years

Kepler, 1st Exoplanet Spotted By NASA, Confirmed As Real World

Nasa Kepler Exoplanet System
Kepler-11 is a sun-like star around which six planets orbit. At times, two or more planets pass in front of the star at once, as shown in this artist's conception of a simultaneous transit of three planets observed by NASA's Kepler spacecraft on Aug. 26, 2010. Image credit: NASA/Tim Pyle

At the fifth Kepler/K2 Science Conference which was held in Glendale, CA on Tuesday, March 5th 2019, Ashley Chontos, an astronomer of NASA’s Kepler Mission announced the confirmed identification of the first exoplanet candidate.

The Kepler Telescope was launched by NASA almost exactly 10 years ago. The mission was designed specifically to survey the region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and so far, it has done its best. It is in search of hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

The Kepler-1658b was the first planet candidate discovered by the Kepler Telescope and so it was named after its telescope, which by the way characterized as a big star by the Kepler data later recorded.

It came out to be three times larger than previously thought. “Our new analysis, which uses stellar sound waves observed in the Kepler data to characterize the host star, demonstrated that the star is in fact three times larger than previously thought. This in turn means that the planet is three times larger, revealing that Kepler-1658b is actually a hot Jupiter-like planet,” said Chontos.

NASA Kepler Telescope
Illustration of NASA’s Kepler telescope. (Credit: NASA)

Although the team of astronomers led by Chontos had refined analysis and everything pointed to the object truly being a planet, but confirmation from new observation was still needed.

“We alerted Dave Latham (a senior astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and co-author on the paper) and his team collected the necessary spectroscopic data to unambiguously show that Kepler-1658b is a planet,” said Dan Huber, co-author and astronomer at the University of Hawaii. “As one of the pioneers of exoplanet science and a key figure behind the Kepler mission, it was particularly fitting to have Dave be part of this confirmation.”

Being three times larger in size than the Sun itself, Kepler-1658b is 50% more massive. It is one of the closest-in planets around a more evolved star orbiting at a distance of only twice the star’s diameter. As seen from the earth, the star would appear to be 60 times larger in diameter of the Sun if one is standing on the planet.

It is however, very rare for a planet similar to Kepler-1658b to orbit around an evolved star and the reason for this absence is poorly understood yet. The extreme nature of the Kepler-1658b system allows astronomers to place new constraints on the complex physical interactions that can cause planets to spiral into their host stars.

According to the studies and insights gained from Kepler-1658b, this process happens slower than thought earlier. Although, this might not be the primary reason for the lack of planets existing around more evolved stars.

“Kepler-1658b is a perfect example of why a better understanding of host stars of exoplanets is so important.” said Chontos. “It also tells us that there are many treasures left to be found in the Kepler data.”

About NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope

About Kepler Mission:
Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically designed to survey the region of the Milky Way galaxy in order discover hundreds of Earth-sized and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.


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