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My team of scientists and I have recently confirmed the existence of 1284 new exoplanets, or planets that orbit a star other than our Sun. The process of confirmation was performed by applying the statistical analysis of the Kepler space telescope’s planet candidate catalog, using the data obtained by the Kepler Observatory, a spacecraft on the Earth’s orbit intended for the discovery of the planets similar to Earth and part of the NASA’s search mission.
The team, lead by Timothy Morton, has estimated the probability of the observable space phenomena to be Earth-like planets to be higher than 99 percent for the 1284 listed objects, making it the single biggest discovery of this kind and increasing the number of known exoplanets by more than a third (Astrobiology Magazine par. 2). Furthermore, the analysis has allowed us to recognize the 550 of the exoplanets as rocky, and nine as being within the habitable zone.
The discovery of new exoplanets is comprised of two phases. First, the Kepler space observatory monitors the visible light of the space bodies and detects the changes in their brightness. The brightness cycles which are consistent with the planet’s passing in front of the star are considered the indirect proof of the space phenomenon being an exoplanet (Sengupta 89). Once such objects are discovered, they are listed in the catalog of “planet candidates.” The candidates are then subject to the rigorous confirmation process, which aims at checking their status as precisely as possible. However, the process is lengthy, which results in slowing down of the mission.
The statistical approach, devised by our team, has made it possible to analyze the large amounts of available data and assign each candidate a status based on the likelihood of it being an exoplanet. The data has allowed the separation of the candidates into several subgroups, where the ones whose probability exceeds 99% are considered planets. Such division effectively eliminates the need to apply the time-consuming individual approach to the objects which do not qualify, which will potentially speed up the confirmation process. Additionally, the analysis allows for a more precise estimation of the Earth-like planets.
By applying the calculation model suggested by Morton, our team was able to make several important findings. First, we were able to positively identify more than a third of the potential candidates (1284 of the 4302) as planets. Other 1327 candidates which were likely to be planets, but whose probability did not exceed the required 99 percent rate, did not qualify. Finally, 707 candidates were confirmed to be the phenomena other than the exoplanets (Astrobiology Magazine par. 2).
We have also applied our analysis to the 984 exoplanets found by other techniques to further validate the findings. More importantly, our analysis has allowed us to conclude that 550 of the 1284 exoplanets are most probably rocky ones, like the Earth, as opposed to gas giants, which are far less likely to be habitable and are thus outside the scope of the Kepler mission. The most important finding is the fact that nine of the newly analyzed exoplanets are within the habitable zone – the distance range between the planet and the star it is orbiting which allows the water to be in liquid condition (Astrobiology Magazine par. 7).
The planets which pass the habitable zone criteria are of primary concern for NASA’s mission, as they not only may be the home for extraterrestrial life, but also open possibilities for colonization by humankind. Before the findings of our team, 12 planets qualified as Earth-like, and thus theoretically suitable for the human population. Our recent analysis raises this number to 21, increasing the probability of finding the “second home” by 75%, which is a significant number, as the habitable zone and solid-state are only two of the multitude of factors, like the temperature, the size, the presence of water, and the atmosphere, which further determine the planet’s value for humans.
Our research is important for two reasons. First, the validation of the exoplanet status of 984 objects confirms the plausibility of our analysis model. Second, the application of the analysis to the raw data from the catalog makes it possible to narrow the direction of the inquiry. However, the current review process that conclusively validates the exoplanets as habitable is still long and tedious. Thus, we seek additional funding from your organization that will allow us to further develop the process in two directions.
First, we need to improve the calculation model to exclude the potential false validations. Second, we need to devise an equally reliable mathematical model for the one-by-one review of the validated candidates. The resulting two-stage method will allow for the much faster processing of data obtained from the Kepler observatory without sacrificing the consistency. As of today, the search for Earth-like planets is among the top priorities in astronomy, as it increases the chances of finding the planet suitable for colonization by humanity, and, more importantly, of discovering extraterrestrial lifeforms. Its effects may range from the dramatic boost to almost all-natural sciences to the possibility of exchanging experience with highly intelligent beings.
- Astrobiology Magazine. “NASA’s Kepler Mission Announces Largest Collection of Planets Ever Discovered” 2016. Web.
- Sengupta, Sujan. Worlds Beyond Our Own: The Search for Habitable Planets. New York: Springer, 2014. Print.