Who says that it’s mandatory to work at NASA, ESA, or SpaceX to find new planets? Since the Universe is teeming with stars, planets, and many other celestial objects, it can be also enough to be passionate about astronomy. Astronomers always knew about the existence of exoplanets (planets beyond our own solar system), but they weren’t completely sure until 1992 when the first one was found. In 28 years since that discovery, humanity has registered a staggering amount of over 4,000 exoplanets.
And now, an astronomy student brings another 17 pieces to the list of exoplanets. Michelle Kunimoto is her name, and she studies at the University of British Columbia. She discovered the exoplanets by combing through data gathered by the Kepler mission of NASA.
One of the exoplanets is in the habitable zone
KIC-7340288 b is the planet discovered by Kunimoto, it’s around a thousand light-years away, and it lies in the habitable zone of its solar system. However, being in the habitable zone doesn’t automatically mean that it’s habitable. The exoplanet is just 50% the size of Earth, which means that it’s a rocky planet, and not gaseous like Saturn, Jupiter, or Neptune.
Kunimoto, a PhD candidate in physics and astronomy, explains why the discovery of KIC-7340288 b is so important:
But this is a really exciting find, since there have only been 15 small, confirmed planets in the Habitable Zone found in Kepler data so far.
Kunimoto also explained that she used the “transit method” to look for the exoplanets in the data that had info about around 200,000 stars:
Every time a planet passes in front of a star, it blocks a portion of that star’s light and causes a temporary decrease in the star’s brightness,
By finding these dips, known as transits, you can start to piece together information about the planet, such as its size and how long it takes to orbit.
The new findings were published in The Astronomical Journal. We are eagerly waiting for further new information to be revealed.