Michelle Kunimoto, a student of the University of British Columbia has discovered 17 new planets including a potentially habitable Earth-like planet by going through the data from NASA’s Kepler mission. The Kepler satellite looked for planets over its four year mission especially those that lie in the habitable zones of their stars where liquid water could exist on the plant’s surface. The findings that were published in The Astronomical Journal included one particularly rare planet. This planet is just 1 ½ times the size of Earth and is in the habitable zone of its star.
“This planet is about a thousand light-years away, so we’re not getting there anytime soon!” said Kunimoto, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of physics and astronomy. “But this is a really exciting find, since there have only been 15 small, confirmed planets in the Habitable Zone found in Kepler data so far.”
The planet has a 142 ½ day year and is orbiting its star at 0.444 Astronomical Units (AU), just bigger than Mercury’s orbit in our solar system and gets about a third of the light that our Earth gets from the Sun.
Out of the 16 newly discovered planets, the smallest is two-thirds the size of Earth, making it one of the smallest planets to be found with Kepler.
Kunimoto has previously discovered four planets during her undergraduate degree at UBC. She’s now working on her Ph.D at UBC using the “transit method” to look for planets among the 200,000 stars observed by the Kepler mission.