NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog With Hundreds Of New Planet Candidates

NASA Kepler spacecraft

Due to their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler.

When asked during the press conference how the team felt about Kepler's first mission coming to a close, Thompson explained that she sees it more as a new beginning.

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 number could have been very, very small, and I for one am ecstatic that we found 50 potentially habitable worlds orbiting nearby stars".

In total, Kepler has now identified 4,034 candidate planets, with 2,335 of those confirmed to be planets orbiting a star outside Earth's solar system, otherwise known as extrasolar or exoplanets. Of Kepler's list of more than 4000 likely candidates from those observations, 2335 have been verified as exoplanets with further analysis or other ground-based observations. It's a rocky planet that is only 30 percent wider than Earth and has an orbit of nearly exactly one year.

The science agency has released its findings - a catalog of 219 new planet candidates. Among these hundreds of planets, about 550 of them appear to be rocky planets similar to Earth, and a precious 9 orbit their stars at just the right distance to have liquid water on their surface-meaning that they might support life.

The latest batch of over 200 planets can be separated into two distinct groups - Earth-size planets and gaseous planets smaller than Neptune.

The Kepler mission will end in October, but the team will leave data measurements for the scientific community as a way to pass the baton to future missions.

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. Such planets are harder to spot because they might have made only a few transits across their star during Kepler's 4-year watch.

For reasons scientists don't yet understand, about half of those planets take on a small amount of hydrogen and helium that dramatically swells their size, allowing them to "jump the gap" and join the population closer to Neptune's size.

The K2 mission, which began in 2014, is extending Kepler's legacy to new parts of the sky and new fields of study, adding to NASA's "arc of discovery".

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. More than 30 of those have been verified, NASA said. "We can imagine the day where we actually take direct images of planets like the Earth in the habitable zone of sun-like stars".

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