It's gotta be hard to be an exoplanet these days, living in the shadow of the everyone's new favourite system, TRAPPIST-1. But the reality is, there are a ton of exoplanets that deserve our love — according to NASA, as of last month, 3472 exoplanets have been confirmed. Many more are out there, waiting for their chance in the spotlight. We just need to find them.
Image: Michael S. Helfenbein via Yale
Recently, a team of astronomers at Yale found one such exoplanet, hiding roughly 3000 lightyears from Earth in the Kepler-150 system. While scientists have known about the system since 2014 and have observed some of its planets, this one — called Kepler-150 f — went undetected. While computers are traditionally used to detect planetary transit signals — or the dip in a sun's light as a planet crosses in front of it — the researchers used their human brains to figure out that somewhere along the way, a computer messed up and it missed out on an exoplanet roughly the size of Neptune. To be fair, Kepler-150 f's orbit is extremely long, taking 637 days to orbit its sun, and even computers could miss that. Nevertheless, the humans' mathematical approach and process has been published in The Astronomical Journal.
"Only by using our new technique of modelling and subtracting out the transit signals of known planets could we then actually see it for what it really was," Joseph Schmitt, a graduate student at Yale and lead author of the paper, said in a statement. "Essentially, it was hiding in plain sight in a forest of other planetary transits."
Whether Kepler-150 f was ever truly "lost" remains something of a mystery. Maybe it just got a bit of stage fright? Either way, we're happy to have another friend out there to keep us company, even though everyone dies alone anyway.