News Worms
News Worms

New branch in family tree of exoplanets discovered

NASA's Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new 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.

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.

Due to their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler. "It's the closest to Earth in size and orbit", said Mullally, "but there is still a lot we don't know about this planet". It was like, 'Junk, junk, variable star - ooh, planet!' It would be like that.

Monday's announcement of a long list of new planets credited to Kepler will be the last.

Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute and lead author of the new study, said the new catalog of Kepler data used sophisticated software to re-examine the light from 200,000 stars in the target area, finding about 34,000 possible "signals".

"It feels a bit like the end of an era, but actually I see it as a new beginning", Thompson said. "It's awesome the things that Kepler has found", Thompson said.

This is the eighth release of information from the Kepler team, which is managed out of Ames for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Before Kepler, astronomers only knew of giant Jupiter-sized exoplanets, some in astonishingly tight orbits around their stars. "It has shown us these terrestrial worlds, and we still have all this work to do to really understand how common Earths are in the galaxy".

A Kepler mission scientist said, for the first time, there is at least one planet that nearly matches the Earth.

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

With 219 potential new worlds out there, some could be habitable & 10 of them like our own.

For the first four years, Kepler observed part of the constellation Cygnus. When scientists see this happen, they then study each signal to confirm that it's coming from a planet passing in front of the star and not some other anomaly. One study, also presented at the conference, has discovered a clear dividing line between rocky planets larger than Earth and gassy planets smaller than Neptune.

One research group took advantage of the Kepler data to make precise measurements of thousands of planets, revealing two distinct groups of small planets.

It has enough fuel to keep identifying candidates until summer 2018 and is helping bridge the gap between Kepler and TESS by identifying targets for the James Webb Space Telescope to observe.


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