Scientists detected a distant planet comparable to Jupiter using data from the decommissioned Kepler satellite observatory from 2016.
At 17,000 light-years distant, the planet K2-2016-BLG-0005Lb is one of the furthest exoplanets identified. Microlensing is a method that finds exoplanets by looking at how their gravitational fields alter the brightness of the stars they orbit.
Jupiter looks to have the same mass, size, and distance from its sun as K2-2016-BLG-0005Lb is from ours. However, Jupiter, the fifth planet in the solar system, has more than double the mass of all its neighbors combined.
“This finding was achieved using a space telescope that was not built for microlensing observations and, in many respects, is significantly sub-optimal for such science,” the researchers said in a report on the result, led by Ph.D. student David Specht of the University of Manchester.
Two years before the Kepler telescope ran out of fuel, the data that led to finding the far-off planet was collected. Specht searched the Kepler data for potential candidates using newly found techniques.
Kepler was launched in 2009 to find planets the size of Earth circling distant stars rather than gas giants. However, the mission was beset with issues, including losing half of the reaction wheels required to turn the vehicle by 2013. Despite this, Kepler investigated over 530,000 stars and located 2,327 exoplanets before being deactivated in 2018.
This isn’t the first time a finding has been discovered since the telescope was retired. NASA scientists utilized Kepler data in 2020 to find a “second Earth” dubbed Kepler-1649c, which is only 300 light-years away.
Last year, scientists revealed for the first time, using X-rays, that they had discovered an “exoplanet” located outside of the Milky Way at a distance of 28,000 light-years from Earth. Even the scientists who discovered it refused to label it a planet, claiming that it suited the model.