Kepler Finds 219 Exoplanets and 10 out of them could be habitable

Janie Parker
June 20, 2017

In its four years in service, the Kepler space telescope has identified 4,034 new planet candidates with more than half of those being confirmed as exoplanets.

The habitable zone is the range of distances from a star where liquid water - one of the building blocks of life - could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

The Spitzer Space Telescope found seven Earth-sized planets around a single star, which set a new NASA discovery record for the largest solar system around a single star. These planets are also exoplanets although they were discovered by the Spitzer Space Telescope rather than the Kepler telescope.

This is the most comprehensive and detailed catalog release of candidate exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, from Kepler's first four years of data.

To celebrate, NASA has launched "Kepler Exoplanet Week" from June 17 through June 23, with events scheduled across the Bay Area. If it is a planet, that Kepler data can be used to determine its mass, size, and orbital period, or how long it takes to go around the star.

"They say not to count our chickens before they're hatched, but that's exactly what these results allow us to do based on probabilities that each egg (candidate) will hatch into a chick (bona fide planet)". Both results have significant implications for the search for life.

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Since the Kepler mission began in 2009, the telescope has helped researchers identify thousands of exoplanet candidates, and more than 2,000 of those have turned out to be confirmed exoplanets. "Maybe Kepler today is telling us indirectly. that we are not alone".

Kepler habitable zone planet candidates, plotted by temperature of star and energy received from its star.

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.

These planets are usually 1.6 times the size of Earth, with rocky terrain. Scientists with the mission expect that Kepler's K2 mission will continue until sometime in 2018.

Typically, exoplanets fall in one of two categories: super-Earths, which have a radius that is 1.5 times that of the Earth, rocky surfaces, and often little to no atmosphere; and those that are like mini-Neptunes, which re about twice the Earth's radius with thick atmospheres and no rocky surface. Such planets are harder to spot because they might have made only a few transits across their star during Kepler's 4-year watch.

Circling sun-like stars make the planets "even more interesting and important", said Alan Boss, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution, who wasn't part of the Kepler team. He likened the discovery to realizing that mammals and reptiles are on separate branches of the evolutionary tree. The size of the dimming tells scientists how the big the planet passing in front of the star is.

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