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New analysis of Kepler data confirms 1,284 new exoplanets

"This new problem Kepler created is that we now have thousands of new planet candidates," said astronomer Timothy Morton.

By Brooks Hays
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This artist's concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope.
 Image courtesy NASA/W. Stenzel
This artist's concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope. Image courtesy NASA/W. Stenzel

PRINCETON, N.J., May 10 (UPI) -- Researchers at Princeton have developed an algorithm that can scan Kepler data for exoplanet signals. Astronomers recently used the analytical software, dubbed Vespa, to confirm the presence of 1,284 exoplanets.

Exoplanets are identified by locating the signals made as they pass in front of their host star at regular intervals.

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Traditionally, astronomers have relied on direct ground-based follow-up observation to confirm potential exoplanet signals recorded by Kepler. But NASA's Kepler spacecraft is gathering so much data, so quickly, astronomers back on Earth can't keep up.

That's where Vespa's algorithm comes in.

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"Vespa is a culmination of a change in attitude about how we deal with these large-data surveys," Timothy Morton, an associate research scholar of astrophysical sciences at Princeton, explained in a news release.

"This new problem Kepler created is that we now have thousands of new planet candidates. Astronomers knew we couldn't follow up all of these in the traditional way, but there was nothing to replace it," Morton said. "This result now puts a number on exactly how likely it is that each detected object is a planet."

The software compares the duration, depth and shape of signals recorded by Kepler to both simulated exoplanet signals and previously recorded false positives to calculate the probability that an exoplanet is responsible for the signal.

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The algorithm also considers the chance of an exoplanet being found in a various star system based on the cosmological conditions and rate of previous exoplanet discoveries in the region.

Vespa recently scanned 7,000 signals from the Kepler data log, confirming 1,284 new exoplanets with 99 percent certainty. Researchers confirmed the algorithm's abilities by confirming 700 exoplanets that had already been identified and confirmed by a variety of methods. Vespa also identified 428 of the candidate signals as likely false positives.

Kepler already has a number of internal computational mechanisms designed to identify exoplanets. Vespa supplements these mechanisms with its own sophisticated algorithm.

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Researchers described the software and its benefits in a new paper published this week in the Astrophysical Journal.

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