NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

Camille Francis
June 20, 2017

The habitable zone is the range of distances from a star where liquid water - one of the building blocks of life - could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

The Kepler mission only looked at one particular part of the sky, so while it only identified a select number of planets and stars even though there are billions more out there. It was created to survey part of the galaxy to see how frequent planets are and how frequent Earth-size and potentially habitable planets are.

The 1,284 newly discovered exoplanets were only announced as such after being identified with 99% confidence, but as NASA admits, that leaves out 1,327 other likely exoplanets that couldn't reach that 99% certainty. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.

Perez also said that means that "we are probably not alone" because four years of data show how common Earth-like planets can be.

The latest findings were released at the Fourth Kepler and K2 science conference being held this week at NASA's Ames research center in California.

The analysis pushes Kepler's tally to 4,034 planet candidates overall, of which 2,335 have been confirmed through additional observation and analysis.

The eighth catalogue is the most detailed released during the first four years of data gathering by Kepler.

The mission ran into technical problems in 2013 when mechanisms used to turn the spacecraft failed but the telescope has continued searching for potentially habitable planets as part of its K2 project. "Intermediate-size planets between these two size groups are relatively rare".

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The telescope works by detecting the tiny drop in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses or transits past it.

The Kepler team found that planets which are about 1.75 times the size of Earth and smaller tend to be rocky, while those two- to 3.5 times the size of Earth become gas-shrouded worlds like Neptune.

New exoplanets, some that could possibly host life, were discovered by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, researchers announced Monday at a news conference.

In comparison, our solar system looks like it has three planets in the habitable zone of the sun: Mars, Venus and Earth.

"Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future Nasa missions to directly image another Earth".

KOI-7711, an unconfirmed exoplanet at this time, appears to be our best candidate for an Earth-like alien world.

The original Kepler mission launched in 2009 and was completed in 2012.

For reasons scientists don't yet understand, about half of those planets take on a small amount of hydrogen and helium that dramatically swells their size, allowing them to "jump the gap" and join the population closer to Neptune's size. In the mid-2020s, we have our sights on taking a picture of small planets like Earth with our Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

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