NASA Discovers 10 Potentially Habitable Earth-Like Planets

An artist's impression of a new planet

The U.S. space agency says that these 10 new candidates are in the correct range of their stars where water could form on the surface of the more rocky planets. The presence of liquid water means that a planet could potentially develop life, or one day host a human colony.

Kepler's data also provided a new way to assess whether a planet has a solid surface, like Earth, or is made mostly of gas, like Neptune.

Over 200 new planets that could be like Earth have been discovered nearby in the Milky Way by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

"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.

Kepler has spotted more than 4,000 planet candidates and confirmed more than half of those.

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

The mission ran into technical problems in 2013 when mechanisms used to turn the spacecraft failed but the telescope has continued searching for potentially habitable planets as part of its K2 project.

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

Kepler spots planets by looking for dips in the brightness of the stars they orbit, known as a "transit".

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Kepler telescope in 2009 to learn if Earth-like planets are common or rare.

This latest announcement brings the number of planets discovered by Kepler to a whopping 4,034, 50 of which have been confirmed as being Earth-sized and located within the habitable zone.

"Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future Nasa missions to directly image another Earth".

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.

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.

Seven of the 10 newfound Earth-size planets circle stars that are just like ours, not cool dwarf ones that require a planet be quite close to its star for the right temperature.

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.

One of Kepler's other big surprises was a profusion of planets intermediate in size between Earth and Neptune.

They also put data that looked like it was coming from a planet but was not into the system, to see whether the analysis got the identification correct.

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