OSU researchers participate in search for more planets

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The intriguing notion that there are thousands of worlds that orbit different stars guides Ohio State University scientists who are contributing to NASA’s quest to explore space in search of more planets.

In Ohio State University’s astronomy department, postdoctoral researcher Matthew Penny wonders about the number of planets similar to those in our solar system.

Astronomers have discovered 2,900 solar systems consisting of one or more planets, with new ones being found all the time.

Penny is focused on how common solar systems like ours exist.

NASA’s Kepler mission, which ended in 2018, searched for exoplanets — planets beyond our solar system — before running out of fuel.

During almost a decade in space, the Kepler Space telescope found 2,300 confirmed planets, and a similar additional number of candidates, Penny said.

The anticipated launch of NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Telescope, or WFIRST, in about 5 years from now, is expected to find thousands of additional planets. 

“Our work predicts that WFIRST will use it to find about 1,400 new planets, with about 100 the mass of Earth or smaller,” Penny said.

The NASA telescope will also provide a glimpse into the mysterious nature of dark energy that comprises about two-thirds of the universe, which impacts the expansion of the universe.

The advantage of WFIRST is the ability to locate planets farther away from their own stars, Penny said, or greater than one astronomical unit (AU), which is defined as the approximate distance between Earth and the sun (93 million miles).

Penny noted that “nearly every exoplanet discovered to date is different than what we would find in our own solar system,” mostly because they are much closer to their stars than Earth.

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