NASA Discovers 10 New Potentially Habitable Earth-Like Planets

NASA Kepler spacecraft

These findings include 50 near-Earth sized planets in all, in which 30 of them have been verified.

The NASA Kepler mission has discovered 219 more exoplanets, including 10 Earth-size planets, program scientist Mario Perez said Monday at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

Although the Kepler mission has yet to fulfill one of its goals, which is determining the fraction of sun-like stars hosting Earth-like planets in our galaxy, these data will help astronomers determine that number in the next few years, the researchers said.

Today, NASA announced the final tally of planets from Kepler's observation of this part of the sky in the Cygnus constellation. Of those, 10 are potentially rocky and located in the habitable zones of their stars where liquid water might be found. If confirmed, they would be added to a small but growing list of Earth-sized planets that occupy our corner of the Milky Way galaxy, supporting the idea that rocky worlds are more common than we once thought.

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Detected in four separate transit candidates, each around 302 days apart, associated with a star that is slightly smaller and cooler than our Sun, KOI-7711 hasn't been verified as a confirmed exoplanet yet. "Both results have significant implications for the search for life", NASA reports. But while Kepler looked at one portion of the sky for stars that were farther away for a longer time, TESS will observe the entire sky and focus on the brightest and closest stars.

Exoplanets are planets that orbit a star outside of the solar system.

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. "The latest Kepler catalog of planet candidates was created using the most sophisticated analyses yet, yielding the most complete and reliable accounting of distant worlds to date", NASA says.

"Most of the planets in the first group may be akin to the Earth, with rocky surfaces and little to no atmospheres".

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So to fix this, the Kepler team simulated their own positive and false signals of planet transits and compared them to the actual data from the mission.

NASA is categorising the two "types" as "super-Earths" and "mini-Neptunes".

"We like to think of this study as classifying planets in the same way that biologists identify new species of animals", said Benjamin Fulton, doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and lead author of the second study. 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. "Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree".

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