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The uncertainty of science: In attempting to confirm the giant exoplanet candidates in the Kepler telescope database a team of scientists has found that more than half are not planets at all but false positives.
An international team1 led by Alexandre Santerne from Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço (IA), made a 5-year radial velocity campaign of Kepler’s giant exoplanet candidates, using the SOPHIE spectrograph (Observatory of Haute-Provence, France), and found that 52,3% were actually eclipsing binaries, while 2,3% were brown dwarfs. Santerne (IA & University of Porto), first author of this paper commented: “It was thought that the reliability of the Kepler exoplanets detection was very good – between 10 and 20% of them were not planets. Our extensive spectroscopic survey, of the largest exoplanets discovered by Kepler, shows that this percentage is much higher, even above 50%.
The news article above is unclear about the number of candidates total this study actually looked at and pinned down. It appears they began looking at the full database of almost 9,000 candidates, but then narrowed it to 125. Were 50% of the 9,000 false positives, or of the 125? The article is unclear.
At first glance, this study appears to tell us that there might be fewer giant Jupiter-sized exoplanets out there than previously thought. Then again, the data is uncertain enough that this conclusion could easily be wrong. The real take-away is that the science of exoplanets has only just begun, and that sweeping generalizations about the nature of solar systems in the galaxy are exceedingly unreliable. We simply don’t know enough yet.