University scientists study solar system formation using over 1200 alien worlds

Space scientists at the University are using groundbreaking new information about hundreds of newly discovered exoworlds to help them better understand the evolution of solar systems.

Dr Richard Alexander, a reader in Theoretical Astrophysics, in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is using the data by NASA's Kepler space telescope, which last week had confirmed the existence of 1,284 new planets orbiting distant stars, adding to the 1,041 previously discovered planets that Kepler had already found.

Dr Alexander said: "Kepler opened new windows on our knowledge of exoplanets, and found a host of new things that we didn't expect. For example, Kepler discovered a new type of planetary system where several planets are seen in very closely-packed orbits - as well as other systems of various types.”

The University's Dr Matt Burleigh, reader in observational astronomy, uses NASA's data to study white dwarf stars.

He said: "In this latest announcement astronomers have tried to 'validate' or 'verify' the reality of 1,284 candidate planets using statistical probabilities. In each case, they believe there is a 99 per cent probability that the planets are real. And nine of them seem to be small enough to be rocky, and exist in the habitable zones of their parent stars. So they might have the right conditions for life."