NASA discovers 10 new Earth-size exoplanets

Jun 20, 2017, 00:49
NASA discovers 10 new Earth-size exoplanets

Ten of the 219 new worlds are thought to be potentially rocky and in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone, a region which is not too close or far away from the star they are orbiting to enable liquid water to exist on their surfaces.

NASA has announced the Kepler space telescope has identified 219 potential new exoplanet candidates - and 10 could be habitable.

Scientists with NASA's Kepler mission announced on Monday that they have now completed the catalogue of the telescope's original four-year campaign of observations.

"Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future Nasa missions to directly image another Earth".

Kepler's data also provided a new way to assess whether a planet has a solid surface, like Earth, or is made mostly of gas, like Neptune.

"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.

Illustration depicting a sample of the many planets discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

The division now is between two categories: "super-Earths", or rocky planets about 1.5 times the size of our own, and "mini-Neptunes", gassy planets more than 2.5 times Earth's size. It's created to find rocky planets (not gaseous ones like Jupiter) that are located in habitable zones of stars where temperatures are temperate enough to potentially sustain life as we know it.

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The latest findings were released at the Fourth Kepler and K2 science conference being held this week at NASA's Ames research center in California. 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.

Detected in four separate transit candidates, each around 302 days apart, associated with a star that is slightly smaller and cooler than our Sun, KOI-7711 hasn't been verified as a confirmed exoplanet yet. Kepler directly measures the size of planets, and their distance from their stars, meaning there is no way to definitely know whether a planet is habitable. "Intermediate-size planets between these two size groups are relatively rare".

Exoplanets are planets that orbit a star outside of the solar system.

The result: 4,034 exoplanet candidates.

For the final catalog, the team focused on teasing out Earth-sized planets around G-type stars like our sun. 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 is getting better at identifying Earth-sized exoplanets in other ways, too.

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.

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