SpaceJibe

February 2, 2011

NASA’s Kepler Telescope Finds Plenty of Planets Outside Solar System

Filed under: Cosmology, Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, Life, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 12:02 pm
NASAs Kepler telescope is finding that relatively smaller planets -- still larger than Earth, but tinier than Jupiter -- are proving more common outside our solar system than once thought. This drawing is of one of the smallest planets that Kepler has found, a rocky planet called Kepler-10b, that measures 1.4 times the size of Earth and where the temperature is more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASAs Kepler telescope is finding that relatively smaller planets -- still larger than Earth, but tinier than Jupiter -- are proving more common outside our solar system than once thought. This drawing is of one of the smallest planets that Kepler has found, a rocky planet called Kepler-10b, that measures 1.4 times the size of Earth and where the temperature is more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA’s planet-hunting telescope is finding whole new worlds of possibilities in the search for alien life. An early report from a cosmic census indicates that relatively small planets and stable multi-planet systems are far more plentiful than previous searches showed.

NASA released new data Wednesday from its Kepler telescope on more than 1,000 possible new planets outside our solar system — more than doubling the count of what astronomers call exoplanets. They haven’t been confirmed as planets yet, but some astronomers estimate that 90 percent of what Kepler has found will eventually be verified.

Kepler, launched in 2009, has been orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars, conducting a planet census and searching for Earth-like planets since last year. It has found there are more planets that are much smaller than Jupiter — the biggest planet in our solar system — than there are giant planets.

Some of these even approach Earth’s size. That means they are better potential candidates for life than the behemoths that are more easily spotted, astronomers say.

While Kepler hasn’t yet found planets that are as small as Earth, all the results are “pointing in the right direction,” said University of California Santa Cruz astronomer Jonathan Fortney, a Kepler researcher.

Yale University exoplanet expert Debra Fischer, who wasn’t part of the Kepler team but serves as an outside expert for NASA, said the new information “gives us a much firmer footing” in eventual hopes for worlds that could harbor life.

“I feel different today knowing these new Kepler results than I did a week ago,” Fischer said.

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