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Another Earth Found!

A sign in Roswell, New Mexico, where ufologists believe aliens crash-landed in 1947. Photograph: Joseph Sohm/Visions of America/Corbis
A sign in Roswell, New Mexico, where ufologists believe aliens crash-landed in 1947. Photograph: Joseph Sohm/Visions of America/Corbis

NASA’s Kepler mission has verified an additional 1,284 new planets. To make it more interesting, nine of these newly-validated batch of planets can “potentially” hold extraterrestrial life. So this must be the age to finally meet our imaginary bubbly-eyed, green little friends.

“This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth,” says Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

We are not alone.

An artist's perspective on select planetary discoveries by NASA's Kepler space telescope. ©NASA/W. Stenzel
An artist’s perspective on select planetary discoveries by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. ©NASA/W. Stenzel

“One of the great questions of all time is whether we are alone in the universe,” Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters (Washington) said.

“We live in a time when humanity can answer this question scientifically. And the first sign of answering this question is looking at exoplanets.”

According to NASA, the Kepler’s spacecraft has been in space since March 2009. Kepler is the first NASA mission to search for Earth-like planets, based on their size and life-sustaining capability. The mission has yielded positive results.

In July 2015, the Kepler space telescope’s catalogue identified 4,302 potential planets. 1,284 of the candidates – with greater than the 99 percent threshold – earned the status of being a “planet”. Nearly 550 planets in the newly-validated batch could be rocky planets like Earth based on their size. As reported, nine of these orbit in their sun’s habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool.

In total, the number of known planets orbiting outside our solar system is now at 3,264 – an amazingly enormous figure.

In addition, Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field (California) said, “They say not to count our chickens before they’re hatched, but that’s exactly what these results allow us to do based on probabilities that each egg will hatch into a chick.

“This work will help Kepler reach its full potential by yielding a deeper understanding of the number of stars that harbour potentially habitable, Earth-size planets, a number that’s needed to design future missions to search for habitable environments and living worlds.”

The Amazing Kepler

NASA's Kepler space telescope. ©NASA
NASA’s Kepler space telescope. ©NASA

Mission Overview:

“The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars. There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants. The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water might exist on the surface of the planet.

The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.”

Kepler Science:

“The scientific objective of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of stars to:

  • Determine the percentage of terrestrial and larger planets that are in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of stars
  • Determine the distribution of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets
  • Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems
  • Determine the variety of orbit sizes and planet reflectivities, sizes, masses and densities of short-period giant planets
  • Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques
  • Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems.”

In 2018, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will use the same method to monitor 200,000 bright nearby stars and search for planets, focusing on Earth and Super-Earth-sized.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler.

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