Earlier this month, scientists from NASA’s Kepler mission discovered 54 planets in so-called “habitable zones” in the Milky Way. The SETI Institute turned its telescopes toward those planets to listen.
It’s naive to think that our temperate rocky planet is unique in our vast universe—and in 1995, we found evidence the first evidence that the majority of other stars have orbiting planets too. Since then, we’ve detected thousands of “exoplanets” or “extra solar planets”, and currently have evidence for significant numbers of three types—gas giants, hot-super-Earths, and ice giants. In 2009, NASA’s Kepler Mission was launched specifically to search for terrestrial Earth-like planets, especially those orbiting within the “Goldilocks zone” of their stars where liquid water (and therefore life a we know it) might exist. The Kepler Mission seeks out exoplanets in the Milky Way by using the transit method: when a planet crosses in front of its star, i.e. “transits”, it causes the star’s brightness to dim by a tiny amount. Kepler continually and simultaneously monitors these transits, and since a planet’s transit will always last the same time and will always cause the same change in brightness, it’s a reliable method for confirming exoplanets. The planet’s orbital size can then be calculated, and so can its size and its temperature—which is key to determining habitability. Kepler has announced over 2,300 exoplanet candidates to date, and thanks to constantly improving technology, we’re discovering new exoplanets daily at an exponential rate.
But what exactly does that mean? These planets were previously seen by our spacecraft, but have now been verified. Kepler’s candidates require verification to determine if they are actual planets, and not another object, such as a small star, mimicking a planet. This announcement more than doubles the number of verified planets from Kepler.
Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system more than two decades ago, researchers have resorted to a laborious, one-by-one process of verifying suspected planets. These follow-up observations are often time and resource intensive. This latest announcement, however, is based on a statistical analysis method that can be applied to many planet candidates simultaneously.
They employed a technique to assign each Kepler candidate a planet-hood probability percentage – the first such automated computation on this scale, as previous statistical techniques focused only on sub-groups within the greater list of planet candidates identified by Kepler.
What that means in English: Planet candidates can be thought of like bread crumbs. If you drop a few large crumbs on the floor, you can pick them up one by one. But, if you spill a whole bag of tiny crumbs, you’re going to need a broom. This statistical analysis is our broom.
The Basics: Our Kepler space telescope measures the brightness of stars. The data will look like an EKG showing the heart beat. Whenever a planet passes in front of its parent star a viewed from the spacecraft, a tiny pulse or beat is produced. From the repeated beats, we can detect and verify the existence of Earth-size planets and learn about their orbits and sizes. This planet-hunting technique is also known as the Transit Method.
The number of planets by size for all known exoplanets, planets that orbit a sun-like star, can be seen in the above graph. The blue bars represent all previously verified exoplanets by size, while the orange bars represent Kepler’s 1,284 newly validated planets announced on May 10.
While our original Kepler mission has concluded, we have more than 4 years of science collected that produced a remarkable data set that will be used by scientists for decades. The spacecraft itself has been re-purposed for a new mission, called K2 – an extended version of the original Kepler mission to new parts of the sky and new fields of study.
The above visual shows all the missions we’re currently using, and plan to use, in order to continue searching for signs of life beyond Earth.
NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth
NASA - Kepler Space Telescope patch.
July 23, 2015
NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”
The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone – the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet – of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.
Image above: This artist’s concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. Images Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.
“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.“
Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.
Image above: This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt.
While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
Image above: There are 4,696 planet candidates now known with the release of the seventh Kepler planet candidate catalog - an increase of 521 since the release of the previous catalog in January 2015. Image Credits: NASA/W. Stenzel.
To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.
The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.
Image above: Since Kepler launched in 2009, twelve planets less than twice the size of Earth have been discovered in the habitable zones of their stars. Image Credits: NASA/N. Batalha and W. Stenzel.
In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.
Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.
“We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”
Image above: This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.
These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publicly available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
Scientists now are producing the last catalog based on the original Kepler mission’s four-year data set. The final analysis will be conducted using sophisticated software that is increasingly sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of Earth-size planets.
Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Breaking News: NASA Just Announced the Discovery of a ‘Second Earth’
NASA just discovered the first truly Earth-like planet! Meet Kepler 452b…
Today (July 23, 2015), NASA announced the discovery of the first truly Earth-like planet. This find comes thanks to thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, which was launched in March of 2009 and has been planet hunting for the last 5 years. “It is the first terrestrial planet in the habitable zone around a star very similar to the Sun,” says Douglas Caldwell, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.
Kepler 452 is a sun-like star that wanders through the cosmos 1,400 light-years from Earth. It has the same surface temperature as our sun and nearly the exact same energy output. Ultimately, both the sun and Kepler 452 are G type yellow dwarfs. This means that Kepler 452’s habitability zone (the area surrounding a star in which liquid water could theoretically exist) is nearly identical to the sun’s.
And, here’s the interesting bit, in this zone, there is a planet that orbits in a path that is nearly identical to Earth's—it falls in almost the exact same place as Earth does in our own solar system.
NASA’s Kepler mission has verified 1,284 new planets – the single largest finding of planets to date.
“This announcement more than doubles the number of confirmed planets
from Kepler,” said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. “This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star
much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth.”
So what’s the most recent news in astonomy? Earth 2.0 was discovered.
NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”
It’s called Kepler-452b (illustration above) and it’s the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone - the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.
Kepler-452b is 1,400 light-years away and larger than Earth, but its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun and has the same temperature.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, biggercousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment. It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet,”
said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b.
July 14th 2015- After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface – roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India - making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.
“I’m delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA’s multifaceted journey of discovery continues.”
“The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”
Per the plan, the spacecraft currently is in data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physical Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons “phones home,” transmitting to Earth a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. The “call” is expected shortly after 9 p.m. tonight.
BREAKING: Kepler Telescope Discovers a System of Six Small Exoplanets
Nature Magazine reports a NASA-Kepler discovery of a system that has six low-mass, low-density exoplanets that transit their star. The system is being designated Kepler-11. These planets are rather unusual for their combination of low mass and low density, and are surrounded at least with gaseous envelopes, or are likely to be icy.
It seems as if there are more questions than answers about this at the moment, but we thought it would be worth sharing.
Speed of a Planet’s Rotation Has Huge Effect on Possibility of Life
“Rotation can have a huge effect, and lots of planets that we previously thought were definitely not habitable now can be considered as candidates,” says Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago. New research has revealed that the rate at which a planet spins is instrumental in its ability to support life. Not only does rotation control the length of day and night, it can also tug on the winds that blow through the atmosphere and ultimately influence cloud formation.
There are currently almost 2,000 extrasolar planets known to us, but most are inhospitable gas giants. Thanks to NASA’s Kepler mission, a handful of smaller, rockier planets have been discovered within the habitable zones of their stars that could provide a niche for alien life.
On Wednesday February 26th, NASA’s Kepler mission announced the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified planets orbit 305 stars, many have multiple-planet systems like our own. Interestingly, 95% of these planets are smaller than Neptune in size, which is 24,622 km in radius (15,299 miles). NASA states that this discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than previously identified planets.
Since the first discovery of a planet outside our Solar System was made two decades ago, Kepler has been able to speed up the process of confirming planets. These multiple planet systems are important for scientists to study because they are fertile grounds that give us clues on planet formation. Four of these confirmed planets are 2.5 times the size of Earth and they lie within the habitable zone. The possibilities seem endless on what may lie on these planets or what life could exist there.
Without doubling NASA’s budget it’ll take us a lot longer to answer the age-old question, “Are we alone in the Universe?” Let’s take action today and help NASA double their budget. penny4nasa.org/take-action/
Astronomers using the Kepler mission data discovered a truly staggering planetary system around the stay Kepler-444:
They’re rocky, Earth-sized worlds that are 11-billion years old.
The universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old. That’s 80% the age of the universe.
The significance can’t be overstated, it’s quite possible that habitable worlds have been forming in the universe for much longer than the age of our solar system.
This picture gives you a feel for the size of the universe, but these planets give you a feel for its age.
The universe is not only so large that it seems ludicrous to suggest there’s no life elsewhere. Now we can say there’s been so much time for life to form, how could it not have? After all life began on Earth almost as soon as the Earth formed.
Since 2009, NASA’s Kepler Mission has been scanning the depths of the universe for distant planets. Exo is a hypnotic visualization tool for exploring the nearly 2,300 exoplanet candidates that have been identified so far.