Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
Science | By Tyler Owen

NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

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

NASA reports Monday, June 19 that its Kepler telescope has identified 219 new planet candidates which includes 10 Earth-sized ones.

The news comes during the Kepler Science Conference and NASA's Kepler exoplanet week, to celebrate the successes of these missions and the scientists who have made exoplanet discoveries possible. And it only looked in a tiny part of the galaxy, one quarter of one percent of a galaxy that holds about 200 billion of stars.

"Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future Nasa missions to directly image another Earth". All of Kepler's observations were in a small patch of sky between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra.

The 1,284 newly discovered exoplanets were only announced as such after being identified with 99% confidence, but as NASA admits, that leaves out 1,327 other likely exoplanets that couldn't reach that 99% certainty.

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"Are we alone? Maybe Kepler today has told us indirectly, although we need confirmation, that we are probably not alone", Kepler scientist Mario Perez said in a Monday news conference. "The latest Kepler catalog of planet candidates was created using the most sophisticated analyses yet, yielding the most complete and reliable accounting of distant worlds to date", NASA says.

One of those planets — KOI7711 — is the closest analog to Earth astronomers have seen in terms of size and the energy it gets from its star, which dictates temperatures. It was created to survey part of the galaxy to see how frequent planets are and how frequent Earth-size and potentially habitable planets are. Before Kepler, the population of exoplanets was largely expected to be full of Jupiter-size planets. Between Kepler and other methods, scientists have now confirmed more than 3,600 exoplanets and found about 62 potentially habitable planets. "Intermediate-size planets between these two size groups are relatively rare". "I would only want to live on one of those", said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist.

These 10 worlds bring the total of potentially habitable planets up to 30. But while Kepler looked at one portion of the sky for stars that were farther away for a longer time, TESS will observe the entire sky and focus on the brightest and closest stars.

These planets are usually 1.6 times the size of Earth, with rocky terrain. The final Kepler catalog will serve as the foundation for more study to determine the prevalence and demographics of planets in the galaxy, while the discovery of the two distinct planetary populations shows that about half the planets we know of in the galaxy either have no surface, or lie beneath a deep, crushing atmosphere - an environment unlikely to host life. 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).

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