For the believers and non-believers alike, it appears that the odds of us being alone in the universe grow thinner by the day. Introducing a large number of new candidates, Kepler’s space telescope team working for NASA has recently added no less than 219 new planet entries to the mission catalog.
With this catalog’s release, there are now 4,034 planet candidates that have been identified by Kepler, 2,335 of which have been verified as exoplanets, or planets that orbit a star outside of our solar system. This latest catalog concludes Kepler’s viewing of the Cygnus constellation, making it the most comprehensive catalog of candidate exoplanets built out of four years of telescope’s data collection.
“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, CA
The fact that intrigues is that out of the 219 new candidates, 10 are of near-Earth size and are orbiting their star within the habitable zone. This distance allows for water to be gathered on the rocky surface of the planet, thus making them not only potentially habitable, but possibly filled with alien life already.
And if this idea alone doesn’t stir you in your seat, then consider that out of more than 4,000 planet candidates detected by Kepler, only 50 fall into the category of being near-Earth sized and within the habitable zone. Furthermore, even Kepler makes mistakes, and the scientists have verified a bit more than 30 out of the 50 to be what the telescope claims them to be.
How Kepler finds planets orbiting a star
The data that the space telescope has collected will prove invaluable in determining the demographics of planets in the galaxy. Thus far, the research shows that about half the planets discovered either exist within a deep, crushing atmosphere, or have no surface at all, making them unlikely to host life as we know it. But there are those that are similar to Earth, and “understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth,” in the words of Mario Perez, Kepler program scientist in the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
For more detailed information on the exoplanet catalog, visit the NASA Exoplanet Archive.