Life Beyond Earth? NASA Kepler Mission Catalog Of Potentially Habitable Exoplanets Expanded

Delia Watkins
June 20, 2017

NASA has discovered 10 brand-new planets which it believes are Earth-like, within the habitable zone and so could theoretically support alien life.

The latest findings announced by scientists on June 19 at NASA's Ames Research Center said Kepler's search has found 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star.

The planet candidates, announced this afternoon by the USA space agency, are in the final catalogue from Kepler's survey of the patch of sky in our galaxy known as the Cygnus constellation. "Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth".

He compared the identification of these new planet classes to the discovery that mammals and lizards are separate branches on the tree of life.

"An important question for us is, 'Are we alone?'" Kepler program scientist Mario Perez said in a conference call with reporters. "The latest Kepler catalog of planet candidates was created using the most sophisticated analyses yet, yielding the most complete and reliable accounting of distant worlds to date", NASA says.

"It implies that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone around sun-like stars are not rare", Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who was not part of the work, said in an email.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Kepler telescope in 2009 to learn if Earth-like planets are common or rare.

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It is more likely to have been a warning to the enemies of the Iranian Regime; Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US . Israel is also concerned about Iran's missile launches and has deployed a multilayered missile-defense system.

The James Webb Space Telescope, however, is capable of observing large exoplanets and detecting starlight filtered through their atmosphere, which will enable scientists to determine the atmospheric composition of the planets and analyze them for the presence of gases that can create a biological ecosystem.

With the final catalog of planetary candidates from Kepler's original mission released, NASA will now focus on the "K2" mission, which began in 2014. The team spent five years working with the operators of the ground-based Keck telescope in Hawaii to study 1,300 stars that hosted planets of these sizes.

Until KOI-7711 is verified and earns an official Kepler planet name - a process that requires a different telescope (usually ground-based) to observe it transiting - this is all speculation.

The division now is between two categories: "super-Earths", or rocky planets about 1.5 times the size of our own, and "mini-Neptunes", gassy planets more than 2.5 times Earth's size.

NASA said that the Spitzer, Hubble and Kepler will continue to conduct follow-up studies.

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. Few planets were found between those groupings.

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