Astronomy student discovers 17 new planets, including Earth-sized world

University of British Columbia astronomy student Michelle Kunimoto has discovered 17 new planets, including a potentially habitable, Earth-sized world, by combing through data gathered by NASA’s Kepler mission.

Over its original four-year mission, the Kepler satellite looked for planets, especially those that lie in the “Habitable Zones” of their stars, where liquid water could exist on a rocky planet’s surface.

The new findings, published in The Astronomical Journal, include one such particularly rare planet. Officially named KIC-7340288 b, the planet discovered by Kunimoto is just 1 ½ times the size of Earth—small enough to be considered rocky, instead of gaseous like the giant planets of the Solar System—and in the habitable zone of its star.

Kunimoto is no stranger to discovering planets: she previously discovered four during her undergraduate degree at UBC. Now working on her Ph.D. at UBC, she used what is known as the “transit method” to look for the planets among the roughly 200,000 stars observed by the Kepler mission.

“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,” Kunimoto said. “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.”

Source: “Astronomy student discovers 17 new planets, including Earth-sized world” PhysOrg, 28 February 2020.<https://phys.org/news/2020-02-astronomy-student-planets-earth-sized-world.html>

Scroll Up