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

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

A team of astronomers working with Kepler Space telescope has found 219 new exoplanets. NASA released a list of 219 exoplanets discovered by astronomers over a period of four years using Kepler Space Telescope. 10 exoplanets among the latest list are in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone and their size is comparable to that of our planet Earth. These planets can support water in liquid form on their surface as they orbit at a suitable distance from their host star. Presence of water in liquid form is one of the main conditions for any exoplanet to support life.

Kepler Space Telescope has discovered 4,034 exoplanets till date and out of these, NASA astronomers consider nearly 50 exoplanets that can support life. Out of 4,034 exoplanets discovered by different teams working with Kepler Telescope, 2,335 have been confirmed in follow-up observations or reviews conducted later. The current catalog of exoplanets released by NASA is comprehensive and it has been prepared during the first four years of data from the space telescope.

Astronomers are interested in searching for planets that can support life. It is still difficult for us to reach and settle on other planets but private space technology companies and government space agencies are working hard to take humans on other planets. NASA is planning a manned mission to planet Mars in near future.

Mario Perez, Kepler program scientist in the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said, "The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near Earth-analogs – planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth. Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth."

The official release by NASA further informed....

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. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.

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. It’s also the final catalog from the spacecraft’s view of the patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation.

Additionally, results using Kepler data suggest two distinct size groupings of small planets. Both results have significant implications for the search for life. 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.

The findings were presented at a news conference Monday at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

This is the eighth release of the Kepler candidate catalog, gathered by reprocessing the entire set of data from Kepler’s observations during the first four years of its primary mission. This data will enable scientists to determine what planetary populations – from rocky bodies the size of Earth, to gas giants the size of Jupiter – make up the galaxy’s planetary demographics.

To ensure a lot of planets weren't missed, the team introduced their own simulated planet transit signals into the data set and determined how many were correctly identified as planets. Then, they added data that appear to come from a planet, but were actually false signals, and checked how often the analysis mistook these for planet candidates. This work told them which types of planets were overcounted and which were undercounted by the Kepler team’s data processing methods.

“This carefully-measured catalog is the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy’s most compelling questions – how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?” said Susan Thompson, Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and lead author of the catalog study.

One research group took advantage of the Kepler data to make precise measurements of thousands of planets, revealing two distinct groups of small planets. The team found a clean division in the sizes of rocky, Earth-size planets and gaseous planets smaller than Neptune. Few planets were found between those groupings.

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.

“We like to think of this study as classifying planets in the same way that biologists identify new species of animals,” said Benjamin Fulton, doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and lead author of the second study. “Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree.”

It seems that nature commonly makes rocky planets up to about 75 percent bigger than Earth. 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.

The Kepler spacecraft continues to make observations in new patches of sky in its extended mission, searching for planets and studying a variety of interesting astronomical objects, from distant star clusters to objects such as the TRAPPIST-1 system of seven Earth-size planets, closer to home.

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