Science 3 min read

Kepler's First Exoplanet Candidate Finally Confirmed

In a final tribute to the Kepler Space Telescope, the first planet it ever discovered has finally been confirmed as an exoplanet. ¦ Image via NASA

In a final tribute to the Kepler Space Telescope, the first planet it ever discovered has finally been confirmed as an exoplanet. ¦ Image via NASA

In 2009, after nearly three decades of development, the Kepler Space Telescope was launched.

Last October, NASA announced the end of the Kepler mission after its revolutionization of our understanding of exoplanets.

Before shutting its sharp photometric eyes, Kepler telescope discovered thousands of worlds outside our solar system, with thousands of other exoplanet candidates awaiting validation.

Of the 2423 Kepler candidates yet to be confirmed, there’s one that is of symbolic importance: Kepler-1658 — Kepler’s first find.

Ten years after being spotted by the Kepler Space Telescope, KOI 4.01, the very first exoplanet candidate, has been confirmed

Kepler’s First Object of Interest is a Planet

KOI 4.01 orbits a star called KOI 4, or Kepler Object of Interest 4 — KOI 1, 2, and 3 were discovered before the Kepler mission.

Astronomers initial estimates of the size of KOI 4.01 and KOI 4 were way off.

KOI 4 star was first thought to be 1.1 times the width of the Sun, and KOI 4.01 categorized as a Neptune-sized planet.

Then, Kepler detected a “secondary eclipse”, or a second drop in light as the object passed behind its star. If the world was as small as Neptune, the team wouldn’t have been able to detect its second dip. So KOI 4.01 was dismissed as a false positive.

Now, an international team of astronomers has confirmed that KOI 4.01 is indeed an exoplanet. Furthermore, both it and its home star are about three times larger than previously thought.

Team leader Ashley Chontos, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, presented the results of the study on March 5 at the fifth Kepler/K2 Science Conference.

Chontos and her colleagues revisited KOI 4.01’s data using a combination of asteroseismology and spectroscopy to analyze stellar sound waves.

“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. This in turn means that the planet is three times larger, revealing that Kepler-1658 b is actually a hot Jupiter-like planet,” said Chontos.

Read More: Study Shows One-Third of Known Exoplanets are “Water Worlds”

KOI 4.01 is now called Kepler-1658b and its host star renamed Kepler 1658.

Kepler-1658 is a gas giant belonging to a class know as “Hot Jupiters”. It completes an orbit around its home star every 3.85 days.

َAfter flying under astronomers’ radars for years, Kepler-1658b now joins Kepler’s list of discoveries as the first find and latest addition.

The results of the study also show just how many other finds are still buried in Kepler’s gold mine of archival data.

Read More: After 9 Years, NASA Finally Retires the Kepler Space Telescope

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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