NASA finds 10 more 'Goldlilocks' planets that could have life

Phillip Butler
June 20, 2017

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.

The findings come courtesy of NASA's pioneering Kepler space telescope, our eye in the sky when it comes to spotting potentially habitable planets beyond our solar system.

"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.

It also announced 219 new planets. 10 exoplanets among the latest list are in the "Goldilocks" zone and their size is comparable to that of our planet Earth.

"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, lead author of the catalog study.

Wrapping up this chapter of the mission adds another 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in the habitable zone - the band of space around their star where it is just warm enough for liquid water to exist on the surface of a planet.

Kepler-186f, a potentially habitable Earth-like exoplanet. If it is confirmed, though, it may become the most Earth-like planet in the catalogue, so far.

For the first four years, Kepler observed part of the constellation Cygnus.

In February, NASA announced the discovery of seven new planets that "could have liquid water - key to life as we know it - under the right atmospheric conditions". But those 10 were joined by an additional 209 more garden-variety planets that are unlikely to be hospitable to life because they are too gassy, too hot, too cold or otherwise unlike the only known planet to host life: Earth. Ten of them are nearly the same size as Earth and are the right temperature to have liquid, pooling water on their surface.

The Kepler mission will end in October, but the team will leave data measurements for the scientific community as a way to pass the baton to future missions.

The James Webb Space Telescope will launch next year and will start probing for details about the atmospheres of these alien worlds.

The Kepler telescope detects an exoplanet when it sees a faint drop in a star's brightness. Each star will be observed for 30 days.

Even more remarkable than the sheer number of planets discovered is the method by which Kepler discovered them. 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).

"I'm looking forward to 2030s", said Courtney Dressing, NASA Sagan Fellow.

Perhaps the most interesting of these is KY 7711, which Thompson said is located near its star in an orbit that is very similar to the path that Earth takes around the Sun, meaning that it reces the same amount of heat, although it is approximately 1.3 times smaller than our planet.

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