Kepler-1658 b Was Kepler Space Telescope’s First Candidate. 10 Years Later It’s Confirmed

Kepler space telescope before launch

Kepler’s mission is over, but the science never stops. Thousands of exoplanets later and a team of astronomers went to the beginning to confirm one more. Kepler-1657 b was the very first exoplanet candidate spotted by the Kepler Space Telescope. The tell-tale dip in its host star’s brightness indicated a potential planet was circling.

But Kepler-1658 b was ultimately tossed aside as a false positive. Initial estimates of the data didn’t make sense.

Recently, a team of astronomers led by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa graduate student Ashley Chontos figured out why. Those first estimates of the planet’s size (and star) were way off.

“Our new analysis, which uses stellar sound waves observed in the Kepler data to characterize the host star, demonstrated that the star is, in fact, three times larger than previously thought,” said Chontos. “This, in turn, means that the planet is three times larger, revealing that Kepler-1658 b is actually a hot Jupiter-like planet.”

The team reached out to Dave Latham (from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory), and the folks there gathered the spectroscopic data needed to show that Kepler-1658 b was indeed a planet.

“As one of the pioneers of exoplanet science and a key figure behind the Kepler mission, it was particularly fitting to have Dave be part of this confirmation,” said co-author Dan Huber.

Here’s a basic rundown of Kepler-1658 b and its star:

– Kepler-1658 (the star, b is the designator for the planet) is 50% more massive than the Sun. And three times larger.

– Like most exoplanets, Kepler-1658 b orbits incredibly close to its host star. One orbit takes 3.8 days.

Astronomers don’t see planet/star systems like this often, and they’re not sure why. But Kepler 1658 b gives them a new data set to use to figure out the interactions that lead to planets spiraling into their host stars. This newly confirmed exoplanet suggests it happens slower than astronomers first thought, and there may be other reasons why many other evolved stars like Kepler-1658 don’t have planets orbiting them.

Chontos says there are a whole lot more exoplanets waiting to be discovered in Kepler Space Telescope’s data. “Kepler-1658 is a perfect example of why a better understanding of host stars of exoplanets is so important,” Chontos said. “It also tells us that there are many treasures left to be found in the Kepler data.”

NASA’s TESS is picking up the exoplanet hunt where Kepler left off.  You can see which parts of the sky TESS is looking at over at its official website.

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