When news breaks that a new planet is discovered, you expect the person responsible to be a world-renowned scientist or seasoned NASA expert. Most recently, however, it’s a PhD student who is being credited with discovering not one, not two, not ten, but seventeen new planets. Michelle Kunimoto, PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, is the lead author of a new paper published in The Astronomical Journal, which describes the makeup of 17 new possible planets.
While most of the planetary candidates are large gaseous bodies, at least one planet is Earth-sized and rocky. Planets bearing similarities to Earth are rare, and this particular planet, labeled KIC-7340288 b, is thought to be 50 percent larger than Earth. It’s also located in close enough proximity to its star for it to potentially support liquid water and be habitable.
Kunimoto made the discovery by using a technique that monitors a star’s light for changes in brightness. When the star’s brightness fades temporarily, it indicates that a planet may be passing in front of it. Her findings cannot be seen through a telescope.
Kuminoto’s findings still need to undergo further verifications to be officially declared planets. At this stage, they are only “planet candidates.”
During her undergraduate degree at the same university, Kuminoto discovered four planets beyond our solar system.