Astronomers from Yale have discovered a lost planet nearly the size of Neptune, 3,000 light-years from Earth.
The planet known as Kepler-150f was considered ‘lost’ as the planet was looked over for many years. An oversight in Kepler’s algorithm for exoplanets caused the miss:
Computer algorithms identify most such “exoplanets,” which are planets located outside our solar system. The algorithms search through data from space mission surveys, looking for the telltale transits of planets orbiting in front of distant stars.But sometimes the computers miss something. In this case, it was a planet in the Kepler-150 system with a long orbit around its sun. Kepler-150 f takes 637 days to circle its sun, one of the longest orbits for any known system with five or more planets.
“Only by using our new technique of modeling and subtracting out the transit signals of known planets could we then actually see it for what it really was,” says Joseph Schmitt, a graduate student at Yale and lead author of a new paper in The Astronomical Journal which details the properties of Kepler-150f . “Essentially, it was hiding in plain sight in a forest of other planetary transits.”
An exoplanet is defined as an extrasolar planet that orbits a star other than the Sun. The first scientific detection of an exoplanet was in 1988. However, the first confirmed detection came in 1992; since then, and as of 1 April 2017, there have been 3,607 exoplanets discovered in 2,701 planetary systems and 610 multiple planetary systems confirmed.
We’re constantly discovering new exo-planets thanks to our rapid advancements in imaging technology. Recently we discovered water on a neighbouring exo-planet, and we found TRAPPIST-1 a star with the largest batch of Earth sized planets ever recorded. One can only speculate at the amount of ‘lost’ planets we may currently be missing.