Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Institute for Astronomy and the Maunakea observatories play a critical role in major astronomical discoveries. In July 2016, NASA and an international team of astronomers announced they identified 100 new planets, including five bearing similarities to Earth.

“These are planets that orbit stars, outside of our solar system, other stars,” said Assistant Astronomer Andrew Howard. “And we used the Kepler space telescope to discover these planets. And then we used four telescopes on Maunakea to characterize these planets and confirm that they are in fact real bonafide planets.”

The NASA Kepler space telescope is orbiting the sun on a mission to find Earth-like planets while mapping the universe. The 100 newly discovered planets add to the already-rich diversity of known worlds beyond our Solar System. In its current K2 mission, Kepler identified planetary candidates by focusing on four different sections of space for a period of three months each, looking for eclipses.

“So as the star stays fixed, the planet orbits in front of it casting a small shadow on the star and we see that shadow as the star dimming.”