Scientists from Princeton University and NASA have confirmed that 1,284 objects observed outside Earth’s solar system by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft are indeed planets. Reported in The Astrophysical Journal on May 10, it is thelargest single announcement of new planets to date and more than doubles the number of confirmed planets discovered by Kepler so far to more than 2,300.
The researchers’ discovery hinges on a technique developed at Princeton that allows scientists to efficiently analyze thousands of signals Kepler has identified to determine which are most likely to be caused by planets and which are caused by non-planetary objects such as stars. This automated technique — implemented in a publicly available custom software package called Vespa — computes the chances that the signal is in fact caused by a planet.
The researchers used Vespa to compute the reliability values for over 7,000 signals identified in the latest Kepler catalog, and verified the 1,284 planets with 99 percent certainty. They also independently verified 651 additional planet signals that had already been confirmed as planets by other methods. In addition, the researchers identified 428 candidates as likely “false positives,” or signals generated by something other than a planet.
Since the beginning of spaceflight, humans have accomplished wonderful feats of exploration and showcased their drive to understand the universe.
Yet, in those 60 years, only one spacecraft, Voyager 1 (launched in 1977) has left the solar system. As remarkable as this is, humans will never reach even the nearest stars with out current propulsion technology. Instead, radically new strategies involving the technology already available must be used.
We propose a roadmap to a program that will lead to sending relativistic probes to the nearest stars.
To do so requires a fundamental change in our thinking of both propulsion and our definition of what a spacecraft is. In addition to larger spacecrafts capable of human transportation, we consider “wafer sats”, wafer-scale systems weighing no more than a gram. The wafer sats would include integrated optical communications, optical systems, and sensors. These crafts, combined with directed energy propulsion, could be capable of speeds greater than 0.25 c.
This program has applications for planetary defense, SETI and Kepler missions.