NASA’s Kepler telescope discovers new earth-like planets with potential for life

By AG Staff 20 June 2017
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
Are we really alone in the Universe? The Kepler space telescope indicates maybe not.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope has uncovered 219 planet candidates beyond the solar system, 10 of which resemble the planet Earth in size and temperature.

Because they are within a distance from their parent stars that would enable water, if it exists, to pool on the surface, there is potential for life to exist on these planets.

The 10 Earth-like planets were found in the final catalogue of candidate planets by the Kepler Telescope, which has been cataloguing earth-size exoplanets since 2009.

The Kepler space telescope detects miniscule drops in a star’s brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it, also known as ‘transit’. Although its primary mission was completed in 2013, it was then extended for another four years.

In the first four years of the mission 4034 planet candidates were identified, 2335 of which were exoplanets.

NASA said that Kepler’s final catalogue of planets will provide a foundation for future research into the prevalence and demographics of planets in the galaxy.

Additionally, the discovery of two distinct planetary populations demonstrated that half of these do not have a surface and therefore could not host life.

“We like to think of this study as classifying planets in the same way that biologists identify new species of animals. Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree,” said Benjamin Fulton, doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii in Manoa.

In a news conference held at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California the scientists discussed how the findings from the Kepler space telescope will contribute to one of life’s biggest questions: Are we alone?

“The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near Earth-analogs – planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth,” said Mario Perez, Kepler program scientist in the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“Maybe Kepler today is telling us indirectly … that we are not alone,” Mario told those gathered at the conference.