Researchers just discovered 104 new exoplanets, some of which have the potential to house extraterrestrial life.
An international team of researchers analyzed the data from the first year of NASA’s K2 mission and has confirmed the discovery of 104 new exoplanets with a suite of Earth-based telescopes. Of these new exoplanets, several are similar to Earth and are rocky and cool enough to be good candidates in our search for life.
The Kepler spacecraft discovered over 4,000 possible exoplanets before it broke in 2013. Instead of giving up, researchers reconfigured Kepler into the K2 mission, allowing the ship to keep searching the skies. The research team, led by Ian Crossfield, an astronomer at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, looked at the planets identified in the first five of quadrants examined by K2. Each potential planet was investigated using high-resolution images from observatories on Earth to confirm their existence.
This is the largest set of exoplanets found since NASA announced 1,284 confirmed planets from the original Kepler mission in May.
One of the most interesting finds is a system of exoplanets with four Earth-like bodies. The exoplanets are closely orbiting a small red dwarf star, that is smaller and dimmer than the sun. Because of their close orbit, they are still in the potentially habitable region. Small dim stars are much more common than stars like the sun, so finding these potentially habitable exoplanets suggests to Crossfield that we may be more likely to find life orbiting a red dwarf star than a brighter star like the Sun. And the K2 mission is still working to find even more of these exoplanets, and will hopefully help discover extraterrestrial life.