NASA on Monday announced the Kepler space telescope team has released a catalog with 219 new planet candidates, including 10 which are near-Earth size and in their stars’ habitable “Goldilocks” zone.
Although the Kepler mission has yet to fulfill one of its goals, which is determining the fraction of sun-like stars hosting Earth-like planets in our galaxy, these data will help astronomers determine that number in the next few years, the researchers said.
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”. One of the potentially inhabitable planets, dubbed TRAPPIST-1E, is very similar in size to Earth and likely has very similar temperatures.
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”.
Due to their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler.
This is the eighth release of information from the Kepler team, which is managed out of Ames for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
Exoplanets are planets that orbit a star outside of the solar system.
In short, it seems that we have 10 new planets that are Earth-like.
To date, Kepler has found 4,034 planet candidates.
To ensure a lot of planets weren’t missed, the team introduced their own simulated planet transit signals into the data set and determined how many were correctly identified as planets.
The Kepler telescope detects the presence of planets by registering minuscule drops in a star’s brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it, a movement known as a transit.
They are within the so-called “habitable zone” of their star – meaning they could support life. In the middle are roughly Neptune-size worlds and at the other end of the scale are smaller Earth-analogues.
This illustration depicts a sample of the many planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
The Kepler Space Telescope is still in space, with limited motion working on the K2 mission.
Kepler can still hunt for planets, but photons from the Sun don’t generate as much force as a reaction wheel can. Researchers are now using the Hubble Space Telescope to determine if these planets had atmosphere. While the catalog from the Kepler mission, the first four years Kepler was in space, will not change after Monday, the catalog from K2 may change and grow in the future. 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).
NASA said that the Spitzer, Hubble and Kepler will continue to conduct follow-up studies.