Kepler's first exoplanet finally confirmed after 10 years, NASA says
Jeremiah Rodriguez, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Wednesday, March 6, 2019 4:11PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 6, 2019 6:07PM EST
After a case of mistaken data 10 years ago, scientists have finally confirmed the first planet discovered outside Earth’s solar system by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, according to a team from the University of Hawaii.
“Kepler-1658b” was discovered by Ashley Chontos, a graduate student with the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. Her team confirmed the exoplanet as part of her first-year research project in February.
The newly-confirmed gas giant whips around its sun every 3.85 days. From the planet’s surface, its star would appear 60 times larger in diameter than Earth’s sun appears from its surface.
The exoplanet’s discovery has been a rocky road.
Ten years ago, initial estimates had been incorrect, so the sizes of “Kepler-1658b” and its star had been underestimated, according to NASA’s profile of the exoplanet. When the numbers didn’t add up, scientists thought they had made a mistake and said the data didn’t point to a planet.
But in 2017, Chontos went back through NASA’s Kepler telescope data using new software and eventually re-classified “Kepler-1658b” from a data anomaly to a potential planet.
“Our new analysis, which uses stellar sound waves observed in the Kepler data to characterize the star, demonstrated that the star [and the planet are] in fact three times larger than previously thought,” she told NASA.
Because of her team’s new data, Chontos said “Kepler-1658b” should be classified as a “hot Jupiter” or as a heated gas planet, she explained in her research paper.
“Hot Jupiters” typically orbit their stars at about one-tenth the distance that the Earth orbits its sun.
Astronomer Dan Huber, who co-authored the paper with Chontos, said their team had Dave Latham, a senior astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, use spectroscopic data to confirm their findings.
“As one of the pioneers of exoplanet science and a key figure behind the Kepler mission, it was particularly fitting to have Dave be part of this confirmation,” Huber told NASA.
Despite being the 1st candidate planet discovered by the @NASAKepler telescope, Kepler-1658b had a rocky road to confirmation. 10 years later, scientists have now confirmed that it is, in fact, a planet. It whips around its star every 3.85 days. Info: https://t.co/f2mpuMLWZo pic.twitter.com/xRwC2q0vwc— NASA (@NASA) March 5, 2019