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80 Exoplanet Candidates Found by NASA's K2 Mission

80 Exoplanet Candidates Found by NASA's K2 Mission
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By    |   Monday, 25 June 2018 02:18 PM

Some 80 exoplanet candidates have been found by NASA's K2 mission, the follow-up to the Kepler Space Telescope, according to PBS.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers used a special algorithm to go through about 50,000 stars to narrow its planet hunt to about 1,000 stars of interest by looking for signs of transits, according to PBS.

Those signs include dips in a star's brightness that indicate a planet passing in front of it, PBS said.

In research published last week in the publication The Astronomical Journal, the researchers said that one likely planet stands out in particular, which orbits star HD 73344. The scientists said if confirmed, it would be the brightest planet host ever discovered by the K2 mission, according to an MIT statement.

"We think it would probably be more like a smaller, hotter version of Uranus or Neptune," Ian Crossfield, an assistant professor of physics at MIT who co-led the study with graduate student Liang Yu, said in the MIT statement.

Researchers said that the planet appears to orbit HD 73344 every 15 days and is estimated to be about 2.5 times the size of the Earth and 10 times as massive, according to the MIT statement. Because of how close it is to its star, it is likely very hot, from the range around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or about the temperature of lava from an erupting volcano, according to the statement.

The new exoplanet information from the K2 mission was unique because they identified the candidates and released the information to astronomers in weeks after K2 made the raw data available, something that has taken several months to a year in the past, MIT said.

Crossfield told MIT that such a fast planet search will allow astronomers to follow up with ground-based telescopes much quicker than they otherwise would, giving them a chance to catch a glimpse of planetary candidates before the Earth passes by that particular patch of sky on its way around the sun.

The MIT statement said that the speed will help when scientists start receiving data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS, which is designed to monitor nearby stars in 30-day swaths and will eventually cover nearly the entire sky.

"We found one of the most exciting planets that K2 has found in its entire mission, and we did it more rapidly than any effort has done before," Crossfield said in the MIT statement. "This is showing the path forward for how the TESS mission is going to do the same thing in spades, all over the entire sky, for the next several years."

The K2 mission, which has been fully operational since 2014, entails a series of sequential observing campaigns on the planet-hunting space telescope to find potential planets. All K2 targets are proposed by the community through the Guest Observer program, NASA said.

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NASA's K2 mission, the follow-up to the Kepler Space Telescope, found 80 exoplanets candidates.
exoplanet, candidates, nasa, k2
Monday, 25 June 2018 02:18 PM
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