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Search For Life: Hundreds Of New Exoplanets Discovered By Astronomers

The Kepler space telescope mission ended in 2018, but the terabytes of data collected are still providing a treasure trove of new discoveries.

A team of researchers claim to have spotted 366 new exoplanets using a freshly developed algorithm and merely days after NASA itself announced the discovery of 301 new exoplanets. For reference, any planet that exists outside the solar system is classified as an exoplanet and they come in different sizes and structural compositions. The first exoplanets were spotted in the 1990s, and even though more than 4,000 exoplanets have been documented so far, scientists expect the number to reach tens of thousands as more advanced observation techniques are developed.

All of the exoplanets observed by astronomers had been spotted within the confines of the Milky Way. However, just over one month ago, NASA announced the potential sighting of the first exoplanet outside Earth’s home galaxy, situated inside a spiral galaxy called Messier 51. The planet in question is estimated to be about 28 million light-years away and was detected using x-ray technology. Even though exoplanets are far away, they might hold secrets to discovering extra-terrestrial life or even planetary habitability in the not-too-distant future.

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Related: NASA Just Found 300+ New Planets, And The Tech Behind It Is Amazing

The latest discovery came from astronomers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and documents the spotting of 366 new exoplanets. While it is an impressive feat in itself, the UCLA team also spotted a single-star planetary system consisting of two giant gaseous planets, both of which are roughly the same size as Saturn. The findings have been published in The Astronomical Journal, and the discovery was made using data from the NASA Kepler Space Telescope’s K2 mission that ended back in 2018.

Massive Findings With More To Come

exoplanets
NASA

The research was exhaustive in scale, as the team studied the massive cache of data — around 500 terabytes — collected by the mission using an algorithm written by Jon Zink, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. The dataset helped identify a total of 747 planets, of which 366 hadn’t been documented before. Aside from spotting hundreds of exoplanets, the team also managed to discover eighteen new planetary systems. The study of planetary systems is also important, as it can help scientists predict the kind of planets that form in a given segment of the parent galaxy. A few weeks ago, research conducted using the ALMA radio telescope array by the University of Nevada in Las Vegas revealed the discovery of the first triple-star planetary system.

Building upon the existing research, the team over at UCLA plans to launch a second phase of observations to discover more new secrets. Exoplanets have been classified into four types: gas giants, Neptunian, super-Earth, and terrestrial. Despite their distance, scientists are able to extract crucial information such as size, temperature, atmospheric composition, and even their chemistry. The last two aspects are of critical importance, as they form the fundamental blocks in humanity’s search for extraterrestrial life and whether a planet has conditions conducive to supporting life at any evolutionary stage. There are millions of strange worlds out there. Some of which are hellish landscapes where clouds rain molten metal, while others are brimming with chemicals that are more or less a biological soup.

Next: This Giant Planet Survived Its Star’s Death, But Will Earth Be So Lucky?

Source: UCLA, The Astronomical Journal

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