Exoplanet hunt finds over 100 candidates

A search for planets outside our Solar System has discovered over 100 candidates, and scientists are asking the public to help with analysing the data.

Artist’s impression of the inferred exoplanet GJ411b orbiting its host star. GJ411b is one of over 100 potential exoplanets discovered during a new search for worlds outside our Solar System. Image Credit: Ricardo Ramirez
Published: February 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Astronomers have detected over 100 potential exoplanets in a new study that has generated the largest collection of exoplanet detecting observations ever made.

The finds include a planet orbiting the fourth closest star to our Solar System, just 8.1 lightyears away.


The team used the HIRES instrument on the Keck-I telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and adopted the radial velocity method.

This technique involves looking for tiny wobbles in stars that could be caused by the gravitational pull of unseen, orbiting planets.

The search has lasted two decades so far and involves about 61,000 individual measurements made of over 1,600 stars.

This data has been made public in order that the exoplanet community can get involved in the search.

"We were very conservative in this paper about what counts as an exoplanet candidate and what does not," says Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, "and even with our stringent criteria, we found over 100 new likely planet candidates."

One of these is orbiting a star called GJ411, which is the fourth closest star to our Sun and about 40% of its mass. The planet, GJ411b, orbits the star in just under ten days.

Now the team are hoping astronomers and citizen scientists around the world will follow up with their own observations, or else help with processing the Keck data.

"I think this paper sets a precedent for how the community can collaborate on exoplanet detection and follow-up", says team-member Johanna Teske of Carnegie’s Observatories and Department of Terrestrial Magnetism.

“With NASA’s TESS mission on the horizon, which is expected to detect over 1,000 planets orbiting bright, nearby stars, exoplanet scientists will soon have a whole new pool of planets to follow up.”


If you fancy having a look at the Keck data to see if you can spot any potential exoplanets, visit the link here for all you need to know to get started.


Iain Todd, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.


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