Another Kepler Planet Confirmed

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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The Kepler mission, launched in 2009, is looking to greatly improve our understanding of planets. Since beginning operation, the planet hunting spacecraft has made tentative identifications of over 1,200 planets, having spotted them as they transited their parent stars. However, these planets need confirmation from a more robust method, specifically the spectroscopically detected wobbles, before they’re added to the official list of extrasolar planets.

Thus far, confirmations have been slow to come; only 16 of the planets have been detected using other methods. But recently, astronomers using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), operated by the University of Texas, Austin have confirmed another.

The planet, Kepler-15b, is the first confirmed by this unique telescope. As opposed to most observatories, the mirror at the HET does not track the stars. Instead, the mirror remains stationary and the detecting instruments are moved along the focal plane to track the object in question. While this doesn’t allow for the object to track the entire night, it does let astronomers get continuous observation of the target for up to 2 hours. This unusual configuration was estimated to reduce the construction costs by as much as 80%.

From the Kepler observations, the tentative planet was expected to have an orbital period of just under 5 days and would transit the parent star for 3.5 hours, dimming the star’s light by about 1.2%. Using this information, the expectation was that the planet should have a radius of 1.4 times that of Jupiter, putting it in the class of “hot-Jupiters”.

The observations by the HET were taken from March until November of 2010. The team used the telescope’s spectrometer to search for the signs of variation between 2 and 100 days. When analyzed for periodicity, the team independently confirmed a strong signal with a period of 4.94 days.

Using the new spectroscopic data, the team estimates the new planet has a mass of 0.66 Jupiter masses, and reduces the estimated radius to 0.96 times that of Jupiter, giving a mean density of ~.9 grams per cubic centimeter. The parent star contains high amounts of heavy elements and is tied with Kepler-6 for the most metal rich parent star of the Kepler findings. If the planet, being formed from the same interstellar cloud, has similar metallicity, then it could be expected that the presence of these additional heavy elements could help to shrink the planet.

The team also reports that they have observed other purported Kepler planets and intends to include the findings in an upcoming publication. Additionally, the HET is scheduled for a major upgrade starting later this year. This will include upgrades to the tracking assembly, as well as the fiber optics used in the spectroscope. Currently, this instrument is only capable of performing confirmations for Jovian massed planets, but once upgrades are complete, the team expects to be able to use the system to search for lower mass candidates in the mass range of Neptune and those in the “Super-Earth” category.

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12 Responses

  1. Mike Petersen says:

    Is it just me, or does the fact that we can’t currently see Earth-sized planets with any of our instruments drive you crazy, too? Who cares about Jovian-sized worlds when the real goal is to find twins to our unique globe. I only hope we can improve technology enough so that the next entry I read is “Earth-sized planet found! Oxygen spotted in atmosphere! Possibility of life!”

    One can only hope.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      You mean other instruments, I think. Kepler has seen one believed to be smaller than Earth (Mars sized) IIRC.

      But yeah, the others haven’t been too timely compared to Kepler’s abilities. What really is annoying me though is the lag time on confirmation. We can’t do much about that.

    • Amazing! That’s exactly my opinion! I hope it will be soon when that would happen! Scientists should unite their inforamation and make the right conclusion for practical actions!

    • James Walczak says:

      Personally I’m not that worried about “Earth-sized” as much as simply “Earth-like”. If we found Jupiter sized planets that were capable of producing or supporting life or even Jupiter sized planets with “Earth-like moons”, hey…I’m good with that.

      For that matter, I’m also greatly in favor of ANY planet that could produce/sustain anything that could be considered “intelligent life”. In all honesty, it seems highly unlikely that another culture would develop and evolve the same way humans have in any case, so in my mind it really just doesn’t matter that much if their planet is actually Earth-like or not.

      That said, the “tech” still has a looooooooooooong way to go before we can truly start exploring such things in any sort of definitive way. I’m just grateful to live in a time where we actually are beginning to discover such things as extra-solar planets. Humans have wondered and theorized about this for centuries but this is the first era of our planet to actually be able to prove other planets are really out there…and that’s a truly significant step in and of itself.

  2. Mike Petersen says:

    Is it just me, or does the fact that we can’t currently see Earth-sized planets with any of our instruments drive you crazy, too? Who cares about Jovian-sized worlds when the real goal is to find twins to our unique globe. I only hope we can improve technology enough so that the next entry I read is “Earth-sized planet found! Oxygen spotted in atmosphere! Possibility of life!”

    One can only hope.

  3. about fu#kin time,they’ve got to get sum kind of a super computer to crunch some of this data or these candidates will never become true blue exoplanets..at this rate the 1,200 explanatory candidates will be confirmed when the universe rips apart.and everyone knows they’ve got a earth under their belt maybe not in the 1 solar au range but still a earth and they are just keeping secret about it untill they are doing the big analysis with it..

  4. Thomas Irrelevant says:

    It’s a difficult process to confirm the mass of a planet with doppler spectroscopy, especially when it orbits such a dim star. It was always known that confirmation will be the bottleneck of this. No one expected them to be confirmed quickly, and many Kepler candidates will probably not be confirmed for decades.

  5. Super computer? You mean super telescope. Computers alone will nort deliver ultra-hyper-super-duper precise measurements, big telescopes and spectroscopes will.

  6. Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph says:

    Behold, eso is building a 42meter telescope, we will have better images of EVERYTHING!

  7. Joilson Amadeu says:

    I’m from Brazil and i read universe today every day wanting to see entries like”earth-sized planet found whitin similar earth atmosphere, albedos, etc. Hoping that next generation of telescope makes this happen…

    • Justin Hartberger says:

      The more telescopes the merrier, but it’s also due to detection methods. Things like the transit method need at least 3 full transits for scientists to feel comfortable with confirmation. For a potentially Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star, that would require at least 3 years since it would have a similar year to our own.

  8. John Carlo Roman says:

    Hehehehe. I have news that there are many “Earth-Like” planets with Water Outside our solar system . I think in 2020 we could found The Atmospheric Components and if there is life there it’s so cool but dangerous though because if aliens or Intelligent Organisms exist they may have a plan to Recapture earth hehehe.

    Just Kidding!.

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