A new computer algorithm called Transit least squares has been tested on the old Kepler data. It resulted in the discovery of 18 Earth-sized exoplanets. Most of them are not good candidates for life as they are orbiting too close to their stars. But one of the new planets is in the habitable zone of its star. The planet is called EPIC 201238110.02 and is located on a distance at 522 light years from Earth.
Astronomers should now be able to find at least another 100 Earth-sized planets in the data from the Kepler mission with this method. Next generation land-based telescopes and space telescopes will also benefit from these algorithms in their search for Earth-like planets. This also bodes well for the upcoming missions planned by ESA.
When a planet transiting it star a small drop in brightness over time occur
Credit: NASA Ames
European space agency ESA is developing three space telescopes that will be used to study exoplanets. CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) and PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) and Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL).
Cheops will be measuring the size of known transiting exoplanets, and that data will be compared with ELT observations to find rocky planets like earth. It will lift off at Europe's spaceport in Kourou, located in in the northeast of South America in French Guiana, between 15 October to 14 November 2019. The mission will have a duration of 3.5 years It will be placed at low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 700 km. In a competition children between the age of 8 and 14 from several countries submitted drawings related to exoplanets. Of 8000 drawings 2700 drawings were selected to be engraved on two titanium plaques that will be placed on the telescope, see all the drawings here: childrens drawings
Plato will be a follow-up mission to the very successful Kepler it will search for planetary transits around one million stars. Plato will be focusing on Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around other G-type stars. It will carry 34 telescopes operating in the visible spectrum. Its observations will determine the age, orbit, and composition with the goal to establish if an Earth-like exoplanet has an atmosphere. A knowledge that could be used for more detailed categorization like scanning for biomarkers. The project is scheduled for launch in 2026 and has a 4 years mission duration. Just like James Webb and Kepler, it will be orbiting the sun in the so-called Lagrange point.
Plato will be followed by Ariel, scheduled for launch in 2028. Ariel will study the atmospheres in great details of a sample 1000 exoplanets. Ariel will just like Plato orbiting the sun in the so-called Lagrange point.