Humans are always looking for traces of life beyond the Earth. They look for Earth-sized planets which may have an Earth-like atmosphere to search for traces of life. A group of researchers from Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), the Georg August University of Göttingen, and Sonneberg Observatory have recently observed around 18 Earth-sized planets beyond the solar system. The research was published in Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Some of them are believed to have conditions suitable for life and were previously overlooked. This came to light after analyzing the data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. They are expecting close to 100 more exoplanets after analyzing the data even more. There are close to 4000 planets outside our solar system and 96% are said to be bigger than our Earth. It is not accurate as smaller planets are harder to track down than bigger planets. Small world planets can be potentially habitable planets and 18 newly discovered planets are Earth-sized.
Scientists look for a transit method to look out for stars with periodically recurring faint dips in star’s light and we can observe this if a star happens to have a planet whose orbital plane is aligned with line of sight of Earth and only then the planet blocks a small fraction of light as it passes in front of the star, once per orbit.
Standard algorithms search for sudden drops in brightness but in reality, when a planet moves in front of a star it blocks less starlight than at mid-way of the transit. Maximum dimming occurs at the center of the transit. For larger planets, the dip it produces is pretty obvious, even if the algorithm is searching for a sudden dip. Thus smaller planets are difficult to differentiate from normal fluctuations of stars.
The research team has decided to test as to what may be the result if they use a more gradual light curve in detecting planets than a sudden dip in brightness. They applied the algorithm to K2 Kepler Mission which resulted in the finding of 18 new planets, however, they are found to be non-habitable as they are orbiting very close to their stars and temperatures are expected to be as high as 100-1000 degrees Celsius.
The lone exception was EPIC 201238110.02, orbiting a red dwarf, which is placed in a habitable zone which is not too hot or not too cold. Planets like these have been found before but they have their own set of problems, when orbiting a red dwarf star, they usually spew out a lot of flares and radiation which could be deadly for nearby planets. However, this is a usual observation and not always true in reality. The Kepler archive has data set for thousands of stars and the newly implemented algorithm will keep looking for new Earth-like planets.
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