Kepler Brings In Record Haul Of 715 New Alien Planets
Boy, Kepler is just the little space telescope that keeps on giving. Despite experiencing some serious technical glitches last year, the Kepler Space Telescope has just brought in a record haul of alien planets, leading many to believe that thousands more could be added in the months and years ahead. Yesterday's announcement that NASA's space telescope had identified a further 715 alien planets meant that of the 1,700 confirmed exoplanet discoveries, Kepler has discovered half.
This latest haul comes after last May's technical difficulties had many expecting Kepler's operations to shut down, but after doing what NASA does best and finding a workaround, Kepler began work on its adjusted planet hunting mission towards the end of last year, and thank goodness it did.
Here are some key facts about these newly confirmed alien worlds:
- Every single planet in this latest haul exists in a multi-planet system, which means there is more than one planet orbiting its host star.
- The 715 planets are strewn across 305 planetary systems
- 95% of these alien planets are smaller than Neptune
- Four of these new planets are just 2.5 times the radius of Earth and orbit within their host star's 'Habitable Zone'
It is this last stat that is of keen interest to many experts. Orbiting within a star's habitable zone means that the temperature on the planet's surface is just right for the existence of liquid water and therefore a prime candidate for hosting lifeforms. 4 planets out of 715 might not sound like a lot, but when you consider the number of stars that exist in our galaxy alone, the odds of finding even more are certainly in our favour. And those odds are set to increase with every year of Kepler's operation. To detect whether or not a planet orbits in the habitable zone, Kepler must witness it in transit past its host star several times. Therefore with every passing month, more observations are made and more planets can be confirmed as orbiting within the habitable zone.
Although we've gotten the big numbers this time, when we have a full four years of Kepler data, that will have more planets in the habitable zone," said NASA Planetary Scientist Jack Lissauer. "We need more transits."
So while this latest bumper collection of planet confirmations is exciting, it would seem that as far as Kepler is concerned, the best is yet to come....which is kind of amazing when you consider that last Summer everyone had pretty much written its obituary.
Long live Kepler!