NASA Telescope Finds 10 More Planets That Could Have Life

NASA Kepler spacecraft

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

"The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near Earth-analogs - planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth", said Mario Perez, Kepler program scientist in the Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Understanding how frequent planets like our own will help NASA develop the next telescope that will directly image planets like Earth.

This is the final catalog detailing exoplanet candidates and confirmations from Kepler's survey taken during the first four years observing part of the constellation Cygnus.

The new Kepler analysis also indicates extra-solar planets form in three general sizes, not two as previously thought.

"This carefully-measured catalog is the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy's most compelling questions - how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?" said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist and lead author of the latest study.

The 10 new Earth-size planets bring the total to 50 that exist in habitable zones around the galaxy. Of those, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets.

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The search for extraterrestrials just got some serious pin drops on the celestial map with the discovery of 10 new planets that may have life. "It's incredible the things that Kepler has found, it has shown us these terrestrial worlds, and we still have all this work to do to understand how common Earths are in the galaxy". As it trailed behind Earth's on its yearly trip around the sun, Kepler constantly watched more than 160,000 stars for any hint of dimming.

"Most of the planets in the first group may be akin to the Earth, with rocky surfaces and little to no atmospheres". 219 new planet candidates were added to the final tally of 4,034 candidates.

Until KOI-7711 is verified and earns an official Kepler planet name - a process that requires a different telescope (usually ground-based) to observe it transiting - this is all speculation.

The findings were presented at a news conference Monday at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. Kepler's main mission ended in 2013 after the failure of two of its four wheels that control its orientation in space.

So far, these planets, which scientists refer to as "super-Earths" and "mini-Neptunes", have not been found in Earth's solar system, though scientists are on the hunt for a potential ninth planet far beyond Pluto.

A follow-up study, described today by astronomer Benjamin Fulton of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, fine-tuned the size measurements for some 2000 Kepler planets using the Keck telescopes in Hawaii. He likened the discovery to realizing that mammals and reptiles are on separate branches of the evolutionary tree.

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