Space

Kepler’s five-year tally: 961 new planets

Kepler’s five-year tally: 961 ...
“Kepler has produced results needed to take the next big step forward in humankind's search for life in our galaxy” – William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center (Image credits: NASA, Ames/R. Hurt/JPL-Caltech, D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Lynette Cook/extrasolar.spaceart.org)
“Kepler has produced results needed to take the next big step forward in humankind's search for life in our galaxy” – William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center (Image credits: NASA, Ames/R. Hurt/JPL-Caltech, D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Lynette Cook/extrasolar.spaceart.org)
View 26 Images
The Kepler primary mirror features a lightweight honeycomb structure (Photo: NASA and Ball Aerospace)
1/26
The Kepler primary mirror features a lightweight honeycomb structure (Photo: NASA and Ball Aerospace)
This image shows the Milky Way region of the sky explored by the Kepler spacecraft/photometer. Each rectangle indicates the specific region of the sky covered by each CCD element of the Kepler photometer. There are a total of 42 CCD elements in pairs, each pair comprising a square. (Image: Carter Roberts / Eastbay Astronomical Society)
2/26
This image shows the Milky Way region of the sky explored by the Kepler spacecraft/photometer. Each rectangle indicates the specific region of the sky covered by each CCD element of the Kepler photometer. There are a total of 42 CCD elements in pairs, each pair comprising a square. (Image: Carter Roberts / Eastbay Astronomical Society)
Artists concept of planet Kepler 10-B, a scorched, rocky world orbiting with a daytime temperature expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (Photo: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry)
3/26
Artists concept of planet Kepler 10-B, a scorched, rocky world orbiting with a daytime temperature expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (Photo: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry)
The Kepler telescope's full field of view shows an expansive star-rich patch of sky in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Star cluster NGC 6791, and a star with a known planet, called TrES-2, are outlined along with TrES-2 – a hot Jupiter-like planet known to cross in front of, or transit, its star every 2.5 days (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
4/26
The Kepler telescope's full field of view shows an expansive star-rich patch of sky in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Star cluster NGC 6791, and a star with a known planet, called TrES-2, are outlined along with TrES-2 – a hot Jupiter-like planet known to cross in front of, or transit, its star every 2.5 days (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
The distributions of mass and orbit size for planets discovered by Kepler in the "habitable zone" (Image: NASA)
5/26
The distributions of mass and orbit size for planets discovered by Kepler in the "habitable zone" (Image: NASA)
Artist’s concept of Kepler-9, the first star system found to have multiple transiting planets (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
6/26
Artist’s concept of Kepler-9, the first star system found to have multiple transiting planets (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Artists concept of planet Kepler 10-B, a scorched, rocky world orbiting with a daytime temperature expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (Photo: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry)
7/26
Artists concept of planet Kepler 10-B, a scorched, rocky world orbiting with a daytime temperature expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (Photo: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry)
Discovered in 2011, Kepler-11 is a sun-like star around which six planets orbit (Image: NASA/Tim Pyle)
8/26
Discovered in 2011, Kepler-11 is a sun-like star around which six planets orbit (Image: NASA/Tim Pyle)
Artist's conception of the Kepler-10 star system, located about 560 light-years away near the Cygnus and Lyra constellations (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
9/26
Artist's conception of the Kepler-10 star system, located about 560 light-years away near the Cygnus and Lyra constellations (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Artist's conception of Kepler-16b, the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)
10/26
Artist's conception of Kepler-16b, the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)
Kepler-16b is the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
11/26
Kepler-16b is the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
Size comparison of the Kepler-22 system with our own solar system (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
12/26
Size comparison of the Kepler-22 system with our own solar system (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
A comparison of the size of planets discivered by Kepler up to December 2011 (Image: NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel)
13/26
A comparison of the size of planets discivered by Kepler up to December 2011 (Image: NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel)
Comparison of "Earth-class" planets discovered by Kepler in late 2011 – Kepler-20e is slightly smaller than Venus, while Kepler-20f is slightly larger than Earth (Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
14/26
Comparison of "Earth-class" planets discovered by Kepler in late 2011 – Kepler-20e is slightly smaller than Venus, while Kepler-20f is slightly larger than Earth (Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Artist's Concept of Kepler-20e, the first planet smaller than the Earth discovered to orbit a star other than the sun (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
15/26
Artist's Concept of Kepler-20e, the first planet smaller than the Earth discovered to orbit a star other than the sun (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
An artist's concept of KOI-961, a small system located about 130 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation that hosts three planets that orbit their parent Red Dwarf star in less than two days (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
16/26
An artist's concept of KOI-961, a small system located about 130 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation that hosts three planets that orbit their parent Red Dwarf star in less than two days (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
An artist's rendition of the Kepler-35 planetary system, in which a Saturn-size planet orbits a pair of stars (Image: Lynette Cook / extrasolar.spaceart.org)
17/26
An artist's rendition of the Kepler-35 planetary system, in which a Saturn-size planet orbits a pair of stars (Image: Lynette Cook / extrasolar.spaceart.org)
An artist's depiction of a possible disintegrating super Mercury-size planet candidate as it transits its parent star named KIC 12557548 (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
18/26
An artist's depiction of a possible disintegrating super Mercury-size planet candidate as it transits its parent star named KIC 12557548 (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Artist's concept of Kepler-47, a system discovered 4,900 light-years from Earth where multiple planets orbiting two suns (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
19/26
Artist's concept of Kepler-47, a system discovered 4,900 light-years from Earth where multiple planets orbiting two suns (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
Milestones from the Kepler mission, which has discovered 961 new planets over 5 years (Image: NASA Ames Research Center/W. Stenzel)
20/26
Milestones from the Kepler mission, which has discovered 961 new planets over 5 years (Image: NASA Ames Research Center/W. Stenzel)
Artist's concept depicts of Kepler-37b a planet slightly larger than our moon that orbits its host star every 13 days at less than one-third the distance Mercury is to the sun – resulting in estimated surface temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
21/26
Artist's concept depicts of Kepler-37b a planet slightly larger than our moon that orbits its host star every 13 days at less than one-third the distance Mercury is to the sun – resulting in estimated surface temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Size comparison of planets in the Kepler-37 system, which lies approximately 210 light-years away in the constellation Lyra (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
22/26
Size comparison of planets in the Kepler-37 system, which lies approximately 210 light-years away in the constellation Lyra (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Artist's conception of a hypothetical planet with two moons orbiting in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Based on data from the Kepler Mission, it's estimated that six percent of red dwarf stars have an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable zone" (Image: D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
23/26
Artist's conception of a hypothetical planet with two moons orbiting in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Based on data from the Kepler Mission, it's estimated that six percent of red dwarf stars have an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable zone" (Image: D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
Artists depiction of Kepler-22b, a world about 2.4 times the size of Earth, orbiting a Sunlike star in the “habitable zone” (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
24/26
Artists depiction of Kepler-22b, a world about 2.4 times the size of Earth, orbiting a Sunlike star in the “habitable zone” (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
This star chart illustrates the large patch of sky searched by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission (Image: Software Bisque)
25/26
This star chart illustrates the large patch of sky searched by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission (Image: Software Bisque)
“Kepler has produced results needed to take the next big step forward in humankind's search for life in our galaxy” – William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center (Image credits: NASA, Ames/R. Hurt/JPL-Caltech, D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Lynette Cook/extrasolar.spaceart.org)
26/26
“Kepler has produced results needed to take the next big step forward in humankind's search for life in our galaxy” – William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center (Image credits: NASA, Ames/R. Hurt/JPL-Caltech, D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Lynette Cook/extrasolar.spaceart.org)
View gallery - 26 images

It’s five years this month since NASA’s $600 million Kepler Space Telescope was launched to look for planets beyond our Solar System – so-called exoplanets – and while the quest to find a twin for Earth has so far been fruitless, Kepler’s observations have revealed our galaxy to be full of worlds potentially able to support life.

Kepler’s observations ended in August 2013 when a mechanical failure made it impossible to aim the telescope accurately. But by then scientists had sifted through data received from Kepler’s continuous observation of more than 150,000 star systems to find 3600 possible planets, and then reduce that figure to 961 firm identifications.

More than half of all known exoplanets were discovered through Kepler, and we now know that most stars have planets in orbit around them, with as many as one in five of these able to support life – which could add up to a staggering 40 billion habitable worlds in our galaxy alone, according to NASA.

Kepler came online on May 12, 2009 and had soon found its first planets, five “hot Jupiters”, so called because of their enormous size and orbits close to their stars.Since then the orbiting observatory has revealed some of the wonders of our galaxy.In September 2011, Kepler data confirmed the existence of a world with a double sunset like the one famously portrayed in the film Star Wars. The discovery of Kepler-16b turned science fiction into science fact. Since then, the discoveries of six additional worlds orbiting double stars further showed planets can form and survive in double-star systems, giving a new class of planetary system.

Artist's conception of Kepler-16b, the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)
Artist's conception of Kepler-16b, the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)

In December 2011, NASA announced Kepler's most exciting discovery yet: Kepler-22b, a world about 2.4 times the size of Earth, orbiting a Sunlike star in the “habitable zone” – the orbital region around a star in which an Earthlike planet can possess liquid water on its surface, a critical requirement for life as we understand it.

Artists depiction of Kepler-22b, a world about 2.4 times the size of Earth, orbiting a Sunlike star in the “habitable zone” (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Artists depiction of Kepler-22b, a world about 2.4 times the size of Earth, orbiting a Sunlike star in the “habitable zone” (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

Kepler found its first Earth-size planet with Earth-size mass in 2013, when scientists identified Kepler-78b, a rock/iron-based world orbiting very close to its star in the constellation of Cygnus, some 400 light-years from Earth.

“Kepler has produced results needed to take the next big step forward in humankind's search for life in our galaxy,” explained William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “To provide information needed for future missions that will ultimately determine the atmospheric composition of Earth-sized exoplanets to discover if they could be habitable."

No longer able to fulfill its primary function, the future of the Kepler Space Telescope is under review by NASA, while a proposal for it to continue hunting planets by employing a different technique – presently dubbed K2 – will be considered for funding by NASA at the 2014 Astrophysics Senior Review of Operating Missions.

Head through to the gallery to see more artist's impressions of the extraordinary worlds discovered by the Kepler Mission since 2009.

Sources: NASA, ASDNews

View gallery - 26 images
2 comments
f8lee
Keep this up, NASA, and before too long you will end up finding MY home planet!
Coca
Looking for planets which might have liquid water but are not in a Goldey Lock zone is not going too help find life as we know it.