1284, or, How to Identify All Your Planet Candidates at Once | Vol. 3 / No. 28.3

Speaking of Identifying Planets Through Statistical Means… | Photo: Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown

In a news conference yesterday, the team behind the Kepler planet-hunting mission announced the discovery of 1284 newly discovered planets, mined from the swathes of Kepler mission data.

The announcement is pretty spectacular for a number of reasons. The Kepler data identified 7056 “Objects of Interest,” but until now they’d been checked and rechecked one at a time to determine if they were indeed planets or something else. In a new method outlined in a paper you can find right here, the team outlines a new method of statistical analysis that allowed them to tackle all of them at once, assigning to them a probability of being “false positives” — things that were at first identified as maybe being planets, but actually aren’t. The number that had a greater than 99% chance of being a planet was 1935. But some of those had already been identified, so the number of new planets is the number you’re seeing everywhere, 1284.

But there’s more! Only 428 have been labeled “likely false positives,” meaning that there are still a lot of maybes. According to the NASA press release, there’s another 1327 that are more likely than not to also be planets, but which require a little more investigation.

Among those identified in this batch were nearly 550 new rocky planets, and among those were nine rocky planets in their stars “habitable zones.” That’s nine more planets that might have life as we know it on them. Of really particular interest are two planets currently named Kepler-1229b and Kepler-1638b, both of which are right in the middle of their habitable zones, and the first of which is just about the same size as Earth.

Kepler uses the transiting method to discover new planets — it watches stars and waits to see if there are tiny decreases in brightness that might indicate planets passing between the stars and us. That mission is still ongoing, but in 2018 NASA will be sending up another craft that does the same thing — TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite — and which should add even more planets to our list.

For a blow-by-blow of the conference, you can check out Science Alert’s transcript of the press conference, for the official press release you can go visit NASA, and as for the paper “False Positive Probabilities for All Kepler Objects of Interest: 1284 Newly Validated Planets and 428 Likely False Positives,” you can find that online in pre-print form.

What a time to be alive.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.