NASA's Kepler space telescope discovers 10 Earth-like planets

20 June, 2017, 00:49 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • NASA centre

NASA's Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

The 10 Goldilocks planets are part of 219 new candidate planets that NASA announced Monday as part of the final batch of planets discovered in the main mission since the telescope was launched in 2009.

"Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future Nasa missions to directly image another Earth". The telescope has studied some 150,000 stars in the Cygnus constellation, a survey which NASA said is now complete.

NASA said in a statement: "There are now 4034 planet candidates identified by Kepler".

Mario Perez, a Kepler programme scientist at Nasa, stressed the importance of the space telescope.

In total, Kepler has now identified 4,034 candidate planets, with 2,335 of those confirmed to be planets orbiting a star outside Earth's solar system, otherwise known as extrasolar or exoplanets.

In February, NASA announced the discovery of seven new planets that "could have liquid water - key to life as we know it - under the right atmospheric conditions".

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Kepler performs its mission by gathering extremely stable observations of distant stars, and watches for when the light from those stars dims, due to a solid object (most likely a planet) passing between the telescope and that star.

They also put data that looked like it was coming from a planet but was not into the system, to see whether the analysis got the identification correct. Like other missions that have outlived their expected lifespan, Kepler broadened its search in 2014 to include other parts of our galaxy and has been taking in data ever since. "I would only want to live on one of those", said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist. "Intermediate-size planets between these two size groups are relatively rare".

For the final catalog, the team focused on teasing out Earth-sized planets around G-type stars like our sun.

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.

One of Kepler's other big surprises was a profusion of planets intermediate in size between Earth and Neptune.

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

The James Webb Space Telescope, however, is capable of observing large exoplanets and detecting starlight filtered through their atmosphere, which will enable scientists to determine the atmospheric composition of the planets and analyze them for the presence of gases that can create a biological ecosystem.

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