Thursday, 24 August, 2017

NASA Telescope Finds 10 More Planets That Could Have Life

NASA Kepler spacecraft GETTYNASA's Kepler spacecraft watches out for exoplanets orbiting distant stars
Garry Little | 20 June, 2017, 00:39

Ten of the 219 new worlds are thought to be potentially rocky and in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone, a region which is not too close or far away from the star they are orbiting to enable liquid water to exist on their surfaces.

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

NASA also announced 219 new planets. It's created to find rocky planets (not gaseous ones like Jupiter) that are located in habitable zones of stars where temperatures are temperate enough to potentially sustain life as we know it.

In its four years in service, the Kepler space telescope has identified 4,034 new planet candidates with more than half of those being confirmed as exoplanets.

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. And It's an important distinction to make, because Neptune-sized planets are nearly always inhospitable to life as we know it.

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". This now-complete catalog will help astronomers assess just how common Earth-like planets are in our galaxy overall. This is certainly the week for exploring such ideas, however, during the Kepler Science Conference, which runs from June 19-23, at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. 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. The exoplanet totals announced Monday reflect a final, extraordinarily detailed analysis of data collected over the first four years of Kepler's observations.

The Kepler space telescope hunts for planets by detecting the minuscule drop in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it, called a transit.

The Kepler team found that planets which are about 1.75 times the size of Earth and smaller tend to be rocky, while those two- to 3.5 times the size of Earth become gas-shrouded worlds like Neptune.

"I'm looking forward to 2030s", said Courtney Dressing, NASA Sagan Fellow.

Kepler performs its mission by gathering extremely stable observations of distant stars, and watches for when the light from those stars dims, due to a solid object (most likely a planet) passing between the telescope and that star. There will be presentations and panel discussions with some of the world's foremost scientists about planet-hunting and the search for other Earths.

Some exoplanets closely resemble Earth and are a few of the best places to look for alien life.

The Kepler Space Telescope is still in space, with limited motion working on the K2 mission.

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