13:17 Jul. 20, 2016
Potentially habitable planets may be among discoveries of famous orbital telescope
The ‘resurrected' Kepler orbital telescope confirmed the existence of more than a hundred of exoplanets, including a number of relatively small super-Earths on which life may be found. That is according to the report published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement.
The results of Kepler's observations were re-analyzed and re-tested with the help of the ground-based optical Gemini North telescope and W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. It turned out, that at least 104 objects out of 197 were planets that in majority revolve around red dwarfs or other middle-sized stars.
"This bountiful list of validated exoplanets from the K2 mission highlights the fact that the targeted examination of bright stars and nearby stars along the ecliptic is providing many interesting new planets," said Steve Howell, project scientist for Kepler and K2 at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "This allows the astronomical community ease of follow-up and characterization, and picks out a few gems for first study by the James Webb Space Telescope, which could perhaps provide information about their atmospheres."
Unlike previous Kepler's discoveries that predominantly comprised large planets – smaller than mini-Neptunes, large super-Earths, and hot Jupiters, after a year of K2 mission work, the telescope was able to find relatively small planets of 1,5-2 Earth radius.
"An analogy would be to say that Kepler performed a demographic study, while the K2 mission focuses on the bright and nearby stars with different types of planets," said Ian Crossfield, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "The K2 mission allows us to increase the number of small, red stars by a factor of 20, significantly increasing the number of astronomical 'movie stars' that make the best systems for further study."
This discovery boosts chances of finding a potential Earth's twins with life on their surface. The most promising stellar systems comprise K2-65 star with an only planet 1,6 times bigger than Earth, and K2-72 red dwarf in the Aquarius constellation that has 4 planets simultaneously revolving around it. Two of the K2-72's planets are inside the so-called ‘life zone', where water can exist in a liquid form.
Kepler orbital telescope, specially designed for the search of the exoplanets, was launched in 2003.
In May 2013, it went out of order, but the specialists have found a way to continue its operation in the framework of the K2 mission.