Kepler telescope finds 10 more possible life-friendly planets

Details of the Kepler Space Telescope mission

NASA IN NUMBERS Details of the Kepler Space Telescope mission

A detailed analysis of data collected by NASA's Kepler space telescope has revealed an additional 219 possible planets orbiting distant suns, including 10 roughly Earth-size worlds in the habitable zones of their host stars, researchers said Monday.

NASA has found new evidence of 219 planets outside our Solar System.

"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. "Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth".

All of these worlds were found in a patch of sky near the Cygnus constellation in our Milky Way galaxy.

Data on the 10 new planets is publicly available in NASA's Exoplanet Archive.

But for all the technical talk about transits, methods and data, Kepler scientist Mario Perez drove home the most exciting part of Monday's announcement.

Since the Kepler mission launched in 2009, it has identified and confirmed more than 2,300 exoplanets. More than 30 of 49 terrestrial candidates have been confirmed orbiting in habitable zones where water can exist as a liquid and life as it's known on Earth could, in theory, exist.

NASA announced the discovery of three other potentially habitable planets in a single solar system relatively close to Earth in February. Of those, 10 are potentially rocky and located in the habitable zones of their stars where liquid water might be found.

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For reasons scientists don't yet understand, about half of those planets take on a small amount of hydrogen and helium that dramatically swells their size, allowing them to "jump the gap" and join the population closer to Neptune's size.

Below is a plot showing only the small subset of relatively Earth-sized planet candidates.

The latest findings were released at the Fourth Kepler and K2 science conference being held this week at NASA's Ames research center in California.

This is the eighth release of the Kepler candidate catalog, gathered by reprocessing the entire set of data from Kepler's observations during the first four years of its primary mission.

In the search for life, Fulton believes it will be better to focus on super-Earths.

Computer routines then examined each signal to determine if it was evidence of an actual exoplanet candidate or if it was the result of "noise" or some other factor.

Until KOI-7711 is verified and earns an official Kepler planet name - a process that requires a different telescope (usually ground-based) to observe it transiting - this is all speculation.

These planets are usually 1.6 times the size of Earth, with rocky terrain.

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