NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

Terry Joseph
June 20, 2017

It's important to note that NASA's rules for what defines a "planet" are incredibly exacting.

Monday's announcement of a long list of new planets credited to Kepler will be the last. 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.

NASA says several of the 10 new potentially habitable planets circle stars similar in size to our sun.

The analysis pushes Kepler's tally to 4,034 planet candidates overall, of which 2,335 have been confirmed through additional observation and analysis.

Kepler habitable zone planet candidates, plotted by temperature of star and energy received from its star. And It's an important distinction to make, because Neptune-sized planets are nearly always inhospitable to life as we know it.

The candidates include 10 newly discovered rocky worlds that are properly distanced from their parent stars for water, if it exists, to pool on their surfaces.

With this new data, the catalog suggests that about half of the exoplanets in our galaxy are either gaseous, with no surface, or have such a heavy atmosphere that life as we know it would not be possible.

Almost all the planet candidates are in between the sizes of Earth and Neptune.

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With the final catalog of planetary candidates from Kepler's original mission released, NASA will now focus on the "K2" mission, which began in 2014.

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

Read: A Planet Hotter Than Most Stars? "It has shown us these terrestrial worlds, and we still have all this work to do to really understand how common Earths are in the galaxy".

NASA says the telescope is able to accomplish this by detecting a drop in a star's brightness, which happens when a planet passes in front of it. Susan Thompson, Kepler research scientist, said in the release that the telescope's catalog will serve as a foundation to answer the question of "how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?"

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. One study, also presented at the conference, has discovered a clear dividing line between rocky planets larger than Earth and gassy planets smaller than Neptune.

The K2 mission, which began in 2014, is extending Kepler's legacy to new parts of the sky and new fields of study, adding to NASA's "arc of discovery".

One research group took advantage of the Kepler data to make precise measurements of thousands of planets, revealing two distinct groups of small planets.

"I'm looking forward to 2030s", said Courtney Dressing, NASA Sagan Fellow.

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