Recently, it was reported that an Earth-like exoplanet, which means a planet orbiting a different Sun than ours, was discovered by a couple interns and a team of amateur astronomers, going to show that there is literally so much out there almost anybody might be able to spot an exoplanet, or a planet with the proper equipment.
However, spotting an exoplanet without the equipment provided by NASA would not really be possible because they managed to spot it, based on the fact that a little moment of blocked sunlight occurred when they observed the star the planet orbits: a brief dimming of light coming from a star can be an indication that its exoplanet just moved in-between us and the star.
People who are familiar with the concept of exoplanets have probably heard of the term “habitable zone.” For an exoplanet to be considered a potential harbor of extraterrestrial life, it must be within a certain range of its star, to reach the right temperature on the planet and provide the conditions likely to produce life.
So this new planet, known as K2-288Bb, is located right in its star’s habitable zone. It is reported to be around twice the size of planet Earth.
Thanks to data retrieved from a primary source of info for NASA, the Kepler space telescope, they report the planet is probably around 226 light-years away in the constellation Taurus.
NASA believes the planet could either be rocky, or a gas “giant” type planet like Neptune. However, the size of the planet at the distance it lies from its star is considered to be rare among planets found beyond our solar system.
A paper was published to describe the new planet in the Astronomical Journal, and lead author Adina Feinstein said:
“It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon.”
A couple years ago in 2017, the author of that paper and a student at the University of North Carolina, Asheville worked as interns searching for evidence of transits through the massive treasure trove of Kepler data. A transit is any astronomical event like a conjunction, a conjunction is what they are referring to here though the term is more often used to describe two objects aligning in our own solar system.
So they scanned the data for stars dimming, evidence of something moving across the face of the star like a planet orbiting around it.
The interns examined data from the fourth observing campaign of Kepler’s K2 mission, and spotted two probable planetary conjunctions in the system.
A third conjunction is required before claiming to have discovered a candidate planet, but they couldn’t find a third signal: until they analyzed absolutely all of the data.
Kepler was in K2 mode for 5 years, from 2014 to 2018, and at the start of every three-month observing campaign, it would reposition itself to examine a different portion of the sky.
At first they believe the repositioning would cause errors, and decided to ignore the first few days of observations. Turns out, those days of observation were just what they needed to confirm the existence of this exoplanet.