Kepler identified 10 more of these planets, bring the total to some 50 of these Earth-like rocks, 30 of which have been double-checked and verified.
Fans of the Drake Equation can rejoice, because NASA just announced that the Kepler spacecraft, which has been scanning the stars to find more exoplanets, has discovered 1,284 new planets, which NASA calls "the single largest finding of planets to date".
"Are we alone? Maybe Kepler today has told us indirectly, although we need confirmation, that we are probably not alone", Kepler scientist Mario Perez said in a Monday news conference. Understanding how frequent planets like our own will help NASA develop the next telescope that will directly image planets like Earth. Kepler has been surveying the Cygnus constellation since 2009, and during that time scientists have found more than 5,000 potential exoplanets in an area of the sky about 3,000 light-years away from Earth.
Due to their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler.
This is the most comprehensive and detailed catalog release of candidate exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, from Kepler's first four years of data.
Of the 219 new planet candidates, 10 are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.
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The first portion of the mission, which lasted roughly four years, ended when the telescope lost two of the reaction wheels that kept its instrumentation stabilized for these careful measurements.
The presence of water is seen as a key factor for the existence of life.
Illustration depicting a sample of the many planets discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope. This data will enable scientists to determine what planetary populations - from rocky bodies the size of Earth, to gas giants the size of Jupiter - make up the galaxy's planetary demographics. In the middle are roughly Neptune-size worlds and at the other end of the scale are smaller Earth-analogues. Researchers are now using the Hubble Space Telescope to determine if these planets had atmosphere. Out of 4,034 exoplanets discovered by different teams working with Kepler Telescope, 2,335 have been confirmed in follow-up observations or reviews conducted later.
Kepler spots potential planets by looking for a dimming of a star's brightness due a planet crossing in front of it. In the mid-2020s, we have our sights on taking a picture of small planets like Earth with our Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).
"This number could have been very, very small", said Caltech astronomer Courtney Dressing. Additionally, 21 of those planets have been determined to be in the habitable zone, where conditions would be those that could allow possible forms of live to survive or even thrive.
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