Kepler telescope finds 10 more possible
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[June 20, 2017]
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) -
Astronomers on Monday added 219 candidates to the growing list of
planets beyond the solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size
and temperature as Earth, boosting the chances for life.
Scientists found the planet candidates in a final batch of NASA's Kepler
Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the
The candidates include 10 newly discovered rocky worlds that are
properly distanced from their parent stars for water, if it exists, to
pool on their surfaces. Scientists believe liquid water is a key
ingredient for life.
“An important question for us is, ‘Are we alone?'" Kepler program
scientist Mario Perez said in a conference call with reporters. “Maybe
Kepler today is telling us indirectly ... that we are not alone.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Kepler
telescope in 2009 to learn if Earth-like planets are common or rare.
With the final analysis of Kepler data in hand, scientists said they
will now work on answering that question, a key step in assessing the
chance that life exists beyond Earth.
During a four-year mission, Kepler found 2,335 confirmed planets and
another 1,699 candidates, bringing its tally to 4,034. That number
includes about 50 worlds that may be about the same size and temperature
Including other telescope surveys, scientists have confirmed the
existence of nearly 3,500 planets beyond the solar system.
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An artist's composite of the Kepler telescope is seen in this
undated NASA handout image. REUTERS/NASA/Handout/File Photo via
Kepler’s data also provided a new way to assess whether a planet has
a solid surface, like Earth, or is made mostly of gas, like Neptune.
The distinction will help scientists home in on potential Earth-like
planets and better the odds for finding life.
The Kepler team found that planets which are about 1.75 times the
size of Earth and smaller tend to be rocky, while those two- to 3.5
times the size of Earth become gas-shrouded worlds like Neptune.
“It’s like finding what we thought was a single species of animal is
really two different things,” said Benjamin Fulton, a graduate
student in astronomy who analyzed the Kepler data.
So far, these planets, which scientists refer to as “super-Earths”
and “mini-Neptunes,” have not been found in Earth’s solar system,
though scientists are on the hunt for a potential ninth planet far
“It is interesting that we don’t have what appears to be the most
common type of planet in the galaxy,” Fulton said.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa
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