NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

An artist's impression of a new planet

Astronomers on Monday added 219 candidates to the growing list of planets beyond the solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, boosting the chances for life.

Mario Perez, a Kepler programme scientist at Nasa, stressed the importance of the space telescope.

Between 2009 and 2013, Kepler stared at the same patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation and measured the brightness of some 200,000 stars.

This new data from the Kepler mission also suggest that within the "family tree" of exoplanets found, the smaller ones fall into two distinct sizes: Earth-like planets and super-Earths, and gaseous mini-Neptunes. A total of 2,335 of those have been verified as exoplanets, 21 of which are Earth-sized and orbit in their star's habitable zone.

This artist rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows some of the 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star identified by NASA's Kepler space telescope. To date, Kepler has found 4,034 planet candidates.

This sharpens the dividing line between potentially habitable planets and those that are inhospitable to life as we know it, the researchers said.

"I'm really excited to see what people will do with this catalog", Susan Mullally, a Kepler research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, told a press conference today during the Kepler & K2 Science Conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

NASA's Kepler space telescope has been on a mission the last 4 years, mapping and scanning the solar system for planets.

"Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future Nasa missions to directly image another Earth". Like other missions that have outlived their expected lifespan, Kepler broadened its search in 2014 to include other parts of our galaxy and has been taking in data ever since.

Scientists were even able to estimate the size and density of the planets.

To ensure a lot of planets weren't missed, the team introduced their own simulated planet transit signals into the data set and determined how many were correctly identified as planets.

The potential discoveries are part of the final catalog of results being released from the first Kepler space telescope mission. Few planets were found between those groupings. That planet is situated around the closest star.

It's a rocky planet that is only 30 percent wider than Earth and has an orbit of nearly exactly one year. 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. Ten of those exoplanets appear to be similar to the size of the Earth and orbit their stars in the habitable zone - just far enough away to develop water, but not so far that they freeze.

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