Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
Science | By Boyd Webster

NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

Astronomers on Monday added 219 candidates to the growing list of planets beyond the solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, boosting the chances for life.

Kepler has now identified 4,034 planet candidates, with 2,335 verified as exoplanets.

And that's just in the corner of the sky that Kepler stared at.

The final catalog of planet candidates will help researchers discover how many planets in the galaxy are Earth-like.

"I'm really excited to see what people will do with this catalog", Susan Mullally, a Kepler research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, told a press conference today during the Kepler & K2 Science Conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

It seems that nature commonly makes rocky planets up to about 75 percent bigger than Earth. The telescope has studied some 150,000 stars in the Cygnus constellation, a survey which NASA said is now complete.

The Kepler telescope detects an exoplanet when it sees a faint drop in a star's brightness. The result is that this final catalog should be the most accurate ever released by the Kepler team.

Kepler's steering wheels broke down several years ago, leaving it unable to scan the stars using the same technique that has yielded so many new worlds.

One of Kepler's most high-profile discoveries was of the Trappist system, a remarkable collection of seven Earth-like planets all orbiting a single star.

Scientists were even able to estimate the size and density of the planets. "It's fantastic the things that Kepler has found, it has shown us these terrestrial worlds, and we still have all this work to do to understand how common Earths are in the galaxy".

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Kepler telescope in 2009 to learn if Earth-like planets are common or rare. 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. The team found a clean division in the sizes of rocky, Earth-size planets and gaseous planets smaller than Neptune. He likened the discovery to realizing that mammals and reptiles are on separate branches of the evolutionary tree.

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. Few planets were found between those groupings. The gravity of a smaller super-Earth may not be strong enough to hold onto hydrogen; if it's close to its star, the hydrogen may get blasted away. Now, we know that exoplanets can be cold gas giants, hot Jupiters, ocean worlds, ice giants, lava worlds and rocky planets.

These other missions - such as TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, in 2018 and the James Webb Space Telescope later on - will continue the search for life beyond Earth. "This has implications in the search for life", Fulton said. "Our result sharpens up the dividing line", Fulton said.

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