Kepler Findings - NASA raises hopes for Life beyond Earth

Pablo Tucker
June 21, 2017

A new survey catalog introduces 219 candidate planets, 10 of which are about the size of the Earth and in orbit in the habitable zones around their host stars.

The findings of the new catalog study were presented at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley on Monday.

The planets are only "candidates" at the moment, which means astronomers will need to do more checks to confirm their findings. The addition of the new catalog now puts the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler space telescope to 4,034. Before Kepler, the population of exoplanets was largely expected to be full of Jupiter-size planets.

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".

"What's exciting about today is we have taken our telescope and we have counted up how many planets are similar to the Earth in this part of the sky", Susan Thompson, Kepler research scientist, said at the conference. "But actually I see it as a new beginning". Kepler was first inducted in the Solar Orbit in 2009 to study the planets and come up with the results that help the scientists to understand the pattern of the planets, stars and the correlation.

The goal has been to discover more Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of a star, where water can pool on the surface of a planet and potentially support life. Essentially, one of the Kepler mission's main objectives is to find out if we are alone in the universe. Planetary scientists hope to use this growing repository of data to learn about planet formation throughout the galaxy and to answer a more enticing question: How many planets like Earth are out there? Luckily, researchers were able to work out a new plan for the second mission, K2, with the craft's limited mobility. As it now stands, it seems that Kepler has spotted over 4,000 planet candidates. The scientists discovered that the planets that are nearly the size of the Earth or smaller are usually rocky while those that are bigger than the Earth tend to be gas-formed like Neptune.

This is the eighth release of the Kepler candidate catalogue, gathered by reprocessing the entire set of data from Kepler's observations during the first four years of its primary mission.

Kepler continues to search for planets in different regions of space. "That's great", said Courtney Dressing, a NASA Sagan Fellow at the California Institute of Technology.

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