NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

NASA Kepler spacecraft

Ten of the new discoveries were orbiting their suns at a distance similar to Earth's orbit around the sun, the so-called habitable zone that could potentially have liquid water and sustain life.

It's important to note that NASA's rules for what defines a "planet" are incredibly exacting.

The new Kepler analysis also indicates extra-solar planets form in three general sizes, not two as previously thought.

"They say not to count our chickens before they're hatched, but that's exactly what these results allow us to do based on probabilities that each egg (candidate) will hatch into a chick (bona fide planet)".

The findings come courtesy of NASA's pioneering Kepler space telescope, our eye in the sky when it comes to spotting potentially habitable planets beyond our solar system.

Even more remarkable than the sheer number of planets discovered is the method by which Kepler discovered them. The 219 new planet candidates are part of the more than 4,000 planet candidates and 2,300 confirmed planets Kepler has identified to date.

The James Webb Space Telescope, however, is capable of observing large exoplanets and detecting starlight filtered through their atmosphere, which will enable scientists to determine the atmospheric composition of the planets and analyze them for the presence of gases that can create a biological ecosystem.

So to fix this, the Kepler team simulated their own positive and false signals of planet transits and compared them to the actual data from the mission.

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. 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). That doesn't mean the planets have life, but some of the most basic requirements that life needs are there, upping the chances for life. "You'd walk in and you go, 'Looks like a transit". The result is that this final catalog should be the most accurate ever released by the Kepler team.

The data indicate "a major new division in the family tree of exoplanets", he said, "somewhat analogous to the discovery that mammals and lizards are separate branches on the tree of life".

Typically, exoplanets fall in one of two categories: super-Earths, which have a radius that is 1.5 times that of the Earth, rocky surfaces, and often little to no atmosphere; and those that are like mini-Neptunes, which re about twice the Earth's radius with thick atmospheres and no rocky surface.

This sharpens the dividing line between potentially habitable planets and those that are inhospitable to life as we know it, the researchers said. "I would only want to live on one of those", said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist. "It's incredible, the things that Kepler has found".

The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to look at targets discovered by K2 in some detail, and it will be able to focus on at least 10 exoplanets in great detail. "It has shown us these terrestrial worlds, and we still have all this work to do to really understand how common Earths are in the galaxy".

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