NASA’s Kepler mission telescope has detected 219 exoplanets in our galaxy, including 10 rocky and potentially habitable planets just like Earth, NASA announced Monday, the Independent reports.
The first phase of the Kepler mission, which aims to scan across 200,000 stars in the Cygnus constellation in order to find other planets just like our own, has updated its catalog of exoplanets for the eighth time. This recent one is the Kepler telescope’s most thorough examination of late.
“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?” explained Susan Thompson, research scientist for the SETI Institute.
The Kepler space telescope, which detects exoplanets via tiny blips in the data, have found 4,034 “candidates” via NASA’s official count, out of which 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Among these exoplanets, 49 Earth-like planets have been found orbiting the “habitable zone,” the region where planets have the right conditions for harboring liquid water, which in turn makes them capable of supporting life. Out of all these 49 Earth-like planets, more than 30 have been verified.
NASA’s Kepler mission space telescope was launched into orbit around the sun in 2009. Its objectives are manifold, involving the scanning of a small portion of the Milky Way so scientists can have a better understanding of our galaxy’s “demographics.” Using Kepler’s unique capabilities, scientists may have a more accurate estimation as to how many stars in the galaxy are just like our sun, the number of planets orbiting them, and how many planets are within the habitable zone. Essentially, one of the Kepler mission’s main objectives is to find out if we are alone in the universe.
“The important thing for us is, are we alone?” said Kepler Program Scientist Mario Perez, as reported by Washington Post. “Kepler today tells us, indirectly, … that we are probably not alone.”
NASA’s Kepler finds 10 more potentially habitable planet candidates https://t.co/pL3xdsi1L9
— TIME (@TIME) June 20, 2017
— Jim Al-Khalili (@jimalkhalili) June 18, 2017
In the first four years of the Kepler mission launch, NASA’s scientists surveyed about 0.25 percent of the sky. The implications of each discovery are rife with possibilities on account of the fact that for every planet detected, between 100 to 200 exoplanets potentially lurk beyond the telescope’s reach, according to NASA. Scientists are also continually updating their scanning models, so it may not be long before the Kepler space telescope finds out how many stars in our galaxy could host an “Earth 2.o.”
A second research group also used the Kepler data for comparative analysis involving measurements taken from ground-based telescopes in order to calculate the approximate sizes and compositions of the exoplanets. After further analysis, they discovered that the smaller worlds the Kepler telescope detected fall into two distinct groups: rocky planets about 1.75 times larger than our own (“super-Earths”), and gaseous “mini-Neptunes” that are two to three times bigger than Earth.
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