NASA confirms the existence of 301 new planets outside our solar system

NASA scientists have confirmed the existence of hundreds of new planets outside our solar system. NASA said 301 exoplanets have been newly validated and added to the total count.

The discoveries were made using a new machine-learning method of differentiating between stars and distant planets in space called ExoMiner.

ExoMiner combs through data previously collected by NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions to decipher what is and isn’t a planet. The missions collect data on thousands of stars and each has the potential to host multiple exoplanets.

“It’s an extremely time-consuming task to wade through massive datasets. ExoMiner solves this dilemma,” NASA said in a press release.

As all planets in our solar system revolve around the sun, planets that orbit other stars are called exoplanets.

Before the existence of an exoplanet is “validated”, it is first “confirmed” by scientists when different observation techniques reveal features that can only be explained by a planet. Some clues scientists look for to find and characterize exoplanets include a star’s wobble, dips in the light, and tiny movements.

A planet is then “validated” using statistics – meaning how likely or unlikely it is to be a planet based on the data, NASA explained.

“When ExoMiner says something is a planet, you can be sure it’s a planet,” added Hamed Valizadegan, ExoMiner project manager and head of machine learning at the Universities Space Research Association at Ames. “ExoMiner is highly accurate and in some ways more reliable than existing machine classifiers and the human experts it is meant to emulate due to the biases that come with human labeling.”

These 301 new exoplanets are added to the 4,569 others already validated.

This artist’s concept shows K2-138, the first multiplanetary system discovered by citizen scientists. The central star is slightly smaller and cooler than our Sun. NASA/JPL-Caltech

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On average, it is estimated that there is at least one planet for every star in the galaxy. That means there are something on the order of billions of planets in our galaxy alone, many of them in Earth’s size range, according to NASA.

NASA said none of the newly confirmed planets would be Earth-like or habitable.

NASA scientists said that now that they had trained ExoMiner using Kepler data, the learning information could be transferred to other missions.

“There is room to grow,” Valizadegan said.

This story was reported from Detroit.

Arline J. Mercier