The Kepler Space Telescope Just Discovered More Than 200 New Planets

NASA centre

NASA centre

Kepler habitable zone planet candidates, plotted by temperature of star and energy received from its star.

The Kepler space telescope closes out its original four-year mission with over 200 new finds, including 10 newfound rocky, potentially life-bearing alien worlds, one of which could end up being a near-twin of Earth.

"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", Dr. Mario Perez, a scientist on NASA's Kepler program, said in the press statement.

Although the Kepler mission has yet to fulfill one of its goals, which is determining the fraction of sun-like stars hosting Earth-like planets in our galaxy, these data will help astronomers determine that number in the next few years, the researchers said. All of Kepler's observations were in a small patch of sky between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra.

NASA announced the discovery of three other potentially habitable planets in a single solar system relatively close to Earth in February.

The U.S. space agency says that these 10 new candidates are in the correct range of their stars where water could form on the surface of the more rocky planets.

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Nasa said several of the 10 new potentially habitable planets circle stars similar in size to our sun. Of which, 2335 have been verified as exoplanets. Both results have significant implications for the search for life. K2, which has found over 100 different exoplanets so far, was started as a way to give the telescope a second life after Kepler suffered multiple mission-threatening technological setbacks. As it trailed behind Earth's on its yearly trip around the sun, Kepler constantly watched more than 160,000 stars for any hint of dimming. "Maybe Kepler today is telling us indirectly. that we are not alone".

There are now 4,034 planet candidates in the catalog.

Illustration depicting a sample of the many planets discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

"Most of the planets in the first group may be akin to the Earth, with rocky surfaces and little to no atmospheres".

"This carefully-measured catalog is the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy's most compelling questions - how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?" said Susan Thompson, Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and lead author of the catalog study. Kepler's main mission ended in 2013 after the failure of two of its four wheels that control its orientation in space. "Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree". The space administration's James Webb Space Telescope will launch in 2018, which will be able to "detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet's atmosphere".

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