NASA’s Kepler mission announces 1,284 new exo-planets
NASA announced that the existence of 1,284 new exoplanets (which orbit stars outside our solar system) discovered by Kepler; it is the biggest collection of planets ever verified. The newly-discovered exoplanets were confirmed by a statistical analysis by Timothy Morton, a Princeton University researcher. The previous verifying process was slow and laborious, which included observation of the discovered planets by telescopes on Earth.
What is the Kepler Mission?
NASA's Kepler Mission is a part of its Discovery Program of low-cost projects focused primarily on science. The Kepler Spacecraft is a space observatory (instruments like telescopes, which are used to observe various space objects) that was launched to discover planets orbiting other stars, which are of Earth's size. Kepler was launched successfully into a heliocentric orbit trailing Earth on 7 March 2009.
Why is it important to discover Earth-like planets?
According to NASA, the interest surrounding the discovery of other planets had revived the quest for Earth-like planets. NASA states that finding planets that are approximately half-to-twice the Earth's size with a habitable zone (with possible life conditions) is challenging. Kepler mission can determine the number of such Earth-like planets and allows keeping our solar system within the continuum of other solar systems.
Over 5,000 candidate planets discovered till date
Since 2009, Kepler observed over 150,000 stars and discovered 1,000 exoplanets which were authenticated. Over 3,200 were verified out of 5,000 candidate planets, which were found by various sources including observatories on Earth.
First Earth-like planet discovered by Kepler
Kepler had found the first Earth-like planet outside our solar system that belonged to the system of 'Red Dwarf Kepler 186' star. The new Earth-like planet was named the 'Kepler-186f', which had a rocky surface, unlike other planets which were gaseous. Kepler-186f was 10% bigger than Earth and about 490 light-years away from us; NASA stated that it might contain water on its surface.
Earth's twin or just a distant cousin?
Tom Barclay, Kepler scientist, said: "The Kepler-186f is an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a cooler star (unlike Earth's hot Sun). So, while it's not an Earth twin, it is perhaps an Earth cousin."
How are the planets verified?
The verification technique used by Princeton uses Vespa-a rapid automated software system. Vespa verifies the likelihood of the planet's existence at an accuracy level of 99%. The system depends on the signals coming from Kepler's candidate planets.
Nine of the exoplanets appear to be Earth-like
Out of the 1,284 new exoplanets discovered, 550 of them are likely to be rocky-surfaced and about the size of the Earth or even bigger. Over 100 of the exoplanets are thought to be 1.2 times the radius of the Earth or even smaller. Nine of the discovered planets appear to be Earth-like, which orbit in the habitable zone of their star system.