Much like an over-the-hill cinematic boxer, everyone had pretty much given up on the Kepler Telescope once its instruments started to malfunction a while back. Though steps are being taken to give it different duties, there is still a seemingly endless stream of data that Kepler has already provided scientists. Delving through this massive chunk of information astronomers keep finding new things. The latest discovery involves the identification and verification of 715 exoplanets, which is the largest batch of new planets ever found, and brings the total sum up to almost 1,700. I guess I should have started off with a better comparison than Rocky.
The research team responsible for this exciting find—led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA‘s Ames Research Center—was analyzing data from May 2009 to March 2011, Kepler’s first two years of operation. They honed their search to only include stars with more than one potential planet, at which point a statistical technique called “verification by multiplicity” was used to determine the probability of planets surrounding those stars. A few thousand of the 150,000 stars observed have confirmed planets orbiting them, and a study of the data revealed that planets are not just randomly or equally distributed, but that some stars are far more likely to have multiple planets than others. And then somebody sprinkled some magic dust on a pair of ancient dice and the number 715 floated in the air above the dice. Or maybe they did something more technical.