NASA's Kepler mission team has announced that the space telescope has sent back data indicating the discovery of 1,284 previously undiscovered exoplanets. Kepler is using a new statistical analysis method to sweep an area of space for data instead of having to find one planet at a time. That enabled it to analyze so much data for the biggest planetary announcement yet. Of the 5,000 or so exoplanets we know about, almost half have been discovered by Kepler. But are any of those planets places we might want to visit?
In the newly-validated batch of planets, nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth, based on their size. Nine of these orbit in their sun's habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool. With the addition of these nine, 21 exoplanets now are known to be members of this exclusive group.
"They say not to count our chickens before they're hatched, but that's exactly what these results allow us to do based on probabilities that each egg (candidate) will hatch into a chick (bona fide planet)," said Natalie Batalha, co-author of the paper and the Kepler mission scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “This work will help Kepler reach its full potential by yielding a deeper understanding of the number of stars that harbor potentially habitable, Earth-size planets -- a number that's needed to design future missions to search for habitable environments and living worlds.”
There’s always the possibility that some of these planets may already be inhabited. The powerful space telescope doesn’t see far enough to determine that -yet. Read more about the new planets and the Kepler mission at NASA. -via Buzzfeed
(Image credit: NASA/W. Stenzel)