Astronomers share data about 100 new exoplanet candidates

A team of astronomers released the biggest batch of exoplanets findings using the radial velocity technique. It contains over 100 potential planets and one that orbits the fourth closest star to our Sun.

The method of radial velocity is one of the best to find planets, using the gravitational tug that the planet causes to the star and vice versa.

The large amount of data was released to the public in this paper was gathered for over twenty years that used a spectrometer called HIRES, which sits atop the 10 meter Keck-I telescope in the Keck observatory in the Hawaiian island of Mauna Kea. This paper included over 61,000 mesurements of more than 1,600 stars.

“HIRES was not specifically optimized to do this type of exoplanet detective work, but has turned out to be a workhorse instrument of the field,” said Steve Vogt, who built this instrument. “I am very happy to contribute to science that is fundamentally changing how we view ourselves in the universe.”

As the survey still continues, the astronomers decided to share the data so they can get help from the exoplanet community.

Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire did a statistical analysis of the data present to single out the signals that may be planets.

“We were very conservative in this paper about what counts as an exoplanet candidate and what does not,” Tuomi explained, “and even with our stringent criteria, we found over 100 new likely planet candidates.”

One of the hundred was a planet orbiting a very close star to us GJ 411, also known as Lalander 21185. It has just 40% of the mass of our Sun and the planet has a shortish orbiting period of 10 days. However this planet continuous a trend that the smallest planets are found around the smallest stars.

“One of our key goals in this paper is to democratize the search for planets,” said team member Greg Laughlin. “Anyone can download the velocities published on our website and use the open source Systemic software package and try fitting planets from the data. A tutorial on how to use Systemic will be available.”

“I think this paper sets a precedent for how the community can collaborate on exoplanet detection and follow-up,” said team-member Johanna Teske. “With NASA’s TESS mission on the horizon, which is expected to detect 1000+ planets orbiting bright, nearby stars, exoplanet scientists will soon have a whole new pool of planets to follow up.”

“The best way to advance the field and further our understanding of what these planets are made out of is to harness the abilities of a variety of precision radial velocity instruments, and deploy them in concert,” said team member Jennifer Burt. “But that will require some big teams to break from tradition and start leading serious cooperative efforts.”

“This paper and data release represents a good chunk of my life work.” Said Paul Butler, the man who started the exoplanet science.