The astronomers from the University of California (UCLA) identified 366 new exoplanets, thanks, in large part, to an algorithm developed by an academic from the institution.
Among his most notable findings is a planetary system comprising a star and at least two gas giant planets, each roughly the size of Saturn and located unusually close to each other.
The discoveries are described in an article published in Astronomical journal.
The term “Exoplanets” is used to describer planets outside our own solar system and the number of these that have been identified by astronomers amounts to less than 5,000 in all.
Studying such a large new group of bodies could help scientists better understand how planets form and how orbits evolve, and provide new insights into how unusual the solar system is.
“Discovering hundreds of new exoplanets is a significant achievement in itself, but what sets this work apart is how it will illuminate the characteristics of the exoplanet population as a whole,” he said. Erik Petigura, Professor of Astronomy at UCLA and co-author of the research.
Jon zink, together with Petigura, and an international team of astronomers, called the Scaling K2 project, identified the exoplanets using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope K2 mission.
The discovery was made possible by a new algorithm for detecting new planets that Zink developed. A challenge in identifying new planets is that reductions in staller brightness can originate from the instrument or an alternate astrophysical source that mimics a planetary signature.
Zink’s algorithm is capable of separate which signals indicate planets and which are simply noise.
Kepler’s original mission came to an unexpected end in 2013 when a mechanical failure left the spacecraft unable to accurately target the patch of sky it had been observing for years.
But astronomers repurposed the telescope for a new mission known as K2, which aims to identify exoplanets near distant stars.
The K2 data is helping scientists understand how the location of stars in the galaxy influences the types of planets that can form around them.
In addition to the 366 new planets the researchers identified, the catalog lists other 381 planets that had been previously identified.
Zink said the findings could be a significant step in helping astronomers understand what types of stars are most likely to have orbiting planets and what that indicates about the building blocks necessary for successful planet formation.