NASA uses big data to confirm 715 strange new exoplanets

Unlike amateur astronomy, which mostly involves pointing and looking, the data from high-level astronomy tend to come in the form of abstract curves and spiked graphs. As a result, the data often needs to be analyzed before scientists even know what it is they’re looking at.

NASA’s Kepler launched with a mission to find planets outside our solar system, but it’s still not sending back pretty pictures of distant planets. When NASA scientists sift through the mountain of readings, they have several levels of hit-quality: there are candidate exoplanets, and then there are exoplanets. Kepler had previously reported thousands of candidate exoplanets, but only confirmed a fraction of them, literally sending astronomers more data than they could handle.

KeplerNow, a new technique allows NASA to sift through candidate exoplanets as batches, rather than individually. The first batch released dwarfs Kepler’s previous all-time total, adding 715 new planets for a total of 961. The total for all telescopes is now 1,750. Multiple planets are regularly found around the same star, with all 715 coming from just 305 systems overall. And as scientists had previously derived from Kepler’s data, roughly 20% of those are probably at least capable of supporting life — if, that is, you believe that the ability to support liquid water is enough to call something life-capable.

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