This artists conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer

Kepler Mission Introduces 715 New Planets

This artists conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer
This artist’s conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer

Astronomy News –

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

Kepler-62f looks dark and foreboding in this artists conception of the exo-planet
Kepler-62f looks dark and foreboding in this artist’s conception of the exo-planet

Astronomers believe around 95 percent of these newly discovered planets are smaller than Neptune, which is nearly four times larger than Earth. This means Earth-size planets outside our own solar system are a lot more common than astronomers first thought.

Kepler-62e is depicted in this artists conception
Kepler-62e is depicted in this artist’s conception

“The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds.”

Work still to be done

Astronomers have had two decades to work out a new way to identify planets among the thousands of star systems they examine using the Kepler Space Telescope and other instruments. The initial process involves laboriously doing a planet-by-planet analysis to determine if a candidate is a planet. Astronomers now use a statistical technique, which they apply to star systems they think have more than one planet.

Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, and a team of scientists analyzed star systems they think have more than one planet. All of these planet candidates were initially found in the first two years of the Kepler Mission – May 2009 to March 2011.

The statistical technique they used is called verification by multiplicity and it partly uses mathematical probability to determine if a candidate is a planet. Astronomers have observed that planets tend to be found together while stars like to roam on their own. If they find a candidate has two or more planet candidates, then it’s probably a star, with orbiting planets. Using these statistical technique astronomers were able to find these 715 new planets.

“Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates –but they were only candidate worlds,” said Lissauer. “We’ve now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds.”

At least four of these new planets astronomers believe are only 2.5 bigger than Earth and orbit their home sun at a distance compatible with the possibility of life. Planets that fall within the habitable zone, or goldilocks zone, of their home star, are planets where water could exist in its various forms. Astronomers believe the temperature and conditions on these four planets could be suitable for biological life forms to exist.

This artists conception is of Kepler-69 and its possible solar system
This artist’s conception is of Kepler-69 and its possible solar system

The home star of one of these new planets called Kepler-296f, astronomers believe is only half the mass and 5 percent of our own Sun. Kepler-296f astronomers believe is at least twice the size of Earth and they’re wondering if it could be a gaseous world, with a thick soupy atmosphere, or possibly a water planet, with a life-sustaining ocean of water.

What’s next?

“From this study, we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular — resembling pancakes — not your classical view of an atom,” said Jason Rowe, a research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. “The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home.”

With the latest planets discovered, this puts the total number of planets the Kepler mission has found at around 1,700. Around 961 of these candidates, NASA is sure are planets. One day we will venture out into the unknown of space and land on one of these distant planets. Each planet we discover brings us closer to this day.

You can view the Stream feed here www.ustream.tv/channel/NASA-arc

For more information on the Kepler Space Telescope and its mission to discover planets visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

Read this article on the year ahead for the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Read this article on the Chelyabinsk meteorite

Read this article on a supernova NASA thinks could have given birth to a black hole

Sources:

http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/digital-press-kit-kepler-planet-bonanza

NASA Hosts Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries

NASA’s Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds

All images and diagrams provided by NASA.

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