NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

But Kepler's latest haul - which includes a planet that is only slightly larger than Earth and receives the same amount of energy from its sun as Earth - is the latest triumph for Kepler, which has spotted roughly 80% of the planets orbiting stars other than our sun.

NASA's Kepler space telescope team has identified 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star.

"An important question for us is, 'Are we alone?'" Kepler program scientist Mario Perez said in a conference call with reporters. Understanding how frequent planets like our own will help NASA develop the next telescope that will directly image planets like Earth.

For Kepler's first four years, it stared at a patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation.

NASA explained that nature commonly makes rocky planets up to about 75% bigger than Earth.

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 10 new Earth-size planets bring the total to 50 that exist in habitable zones around the galaxy. "Intermediate-size planets between these two size groups are relatively rare".

To get these newly refined results, the team moved away from identifying each signal by hand - an inconsistent method according to Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute.

This artist's vision shows what a Kepler exoplanet might look like. As it trailed behind Earth's on its yearly trip around the sun, Kepler constantly watched more than 160,000 stars for any hint of dimming.

These planets are usually 1.6 times the size of Earth, with rocky terrain.

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.

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

With the addition of this latest release, Kepler has now identified 4,034 planet candidates, and 2,335 of them have been confirmed as exoplanets. Scientists with the mission expect that Kepler's K2 mission will continue until sometime in 2018. "Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree".

So far, these planets, which scientists refer to as "super-Earths" and "mini-Neptunes", have not been found in Earth's solar system, though scientists are on the hunt for a potential ninth planet far beyond Pluto.

"KOI" stands for "Kepler object of interest".

A follow-up study, described today by astronomer Benjamin Fulton of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, fine-tuned the size measurements for some 2000 Kepler planets using the Keck telescopes in Hawaii.

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