British researchers: in data from the Kepler telescope – thanks to the effect of fine lenses – they identified four planets the size of Earth, which seem to float freely through space.
In 2016, as part of the K2 mission, NASA’s Kepler space telescope took part in an observational campaign to find so-called microlensing events, which were surrounded by large ground-based telescopes. At the end of 2018, NASA finally shut down the telescope due to a lack of fuel. But the analysis of the data still highlights something new. Researchers at the University of Manchester have now discovered four Earth-sized planets that appear to be floating in space without a star like our sun.
Dozens of floating planets have been discovered
Such floating planets have been repeatedly identified in the past few years. There are now a few dozen such discoveries in total. Because they do not orbit a star and are barely luminous, floating planets are difficult to find with the methods currently available. Researchers rely on The effect of microlensing caused by gravity. Planets can be identified from Earth based on the distortion of starlight as they pass.
The main reason why it is difficult to search for free-moving planets with a microlens effect is that you have to observe millions of stars at the same time to find the corresponding signals. In 2016, for example, the Kepler telescope was aligned every 30 minutes over two months for a new sector of space. Study leader Ian MacDonald Describe The process is “as easy as looking for a twinkle of glowworms in the middle of a highway where you only have a smartphone at your disposal.”
Planets up to 10,000 light years away
However, data analysis has now shown the success of the mission. British scientists found 27 microlensing events in data from the Kepler telescope. Four of the possible free planets must correspond to the size and mass of the Earth. In any case, it is clear that the discovered planets are very far away. Scientists can only estimate the actual distance, however, it should be between 3,000 and 10,000 light-years. In the future, better telescopes should enable new insights into free-floating planets.
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