Friday, 20 October, 2017

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog with Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

NASA Kepler spacecraft GETTYNASA's Kepler spacecraft watches out for exoplanets orbiting distant stars
Heather Davidson | 20 June, 2017, 01:16

WASHINGTON (AP) — NASA's planet-hunting telescope has found 10 new planets outside our solar system that are likely the right size and temperature to potentially have life on them, broadly hinting that we are probably not alone.

NASA said the latest catalog is the most complete and detailed survey of potential exoplanets yet compiled.

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 Kepler Space Telescope has discovered 219 new so-called "exoplanets" - planets outside our Solar System - NASA announced today.

Mario Perez, a Kepler programme scientist at Nasa, stressed the importance of the space telescope. "There's a lot we don't know about this planet", said Kepler researcher Susan Mullally, so it's too soon to say if KOI-7711 is truly a twin of Earth with a similar atmosphere and liquid water.

The telescope was viewing the Cygnus constellation in our Milky Way galaxy.

To celebrate, NASA has launched "Kepler Exoplanet Week" from June 17 through June 23, with events scheduled across the Bay Area. Understanding how frequent planets like our own will help NASA develop the next telescope that will directly image planets like Earth.

With a wealth of planets to study, scientists found that small planets come in two distinct groups.

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The result: 4,034 exoplanet candidates.

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.

Using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the group measured the sizes of 1,300 stars in the Kepler field of view to determine the radii of 2,000 Kepler planets with exquisite precision.

After four years of searching, the Kepler telescope has detected a total of 49 planets in the Goldilocks zone. If Kepler, the planet and its star don't line up, we can't see a transit. There are rocky, Earth-sized planets and gas-rich planets that are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune (Neptune is about four times the size of Earth).

"It's like finding what we thought was a single species of animal is really two different things", said Benjamin Fulton, a graduate student in astronomy who analysed the Kepler data.

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.

With the release of this catalog, derived from data publicly available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive, there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. He likened the discovery to realizing that mammals and reptiles are on separate branches of the evolutionary tree. For reasons scientists don't yet understand, about half of those planets take on a small amount of hydrogen and helium that dramatically swells their size, allowing them to "jump the gap" and join the population closer to Neptune's size.

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