Exciting news for our space faring readers today. The Kepler spacecraft, searching distances far beyond our solar system has found more than 1,000 possible planets which are orbiting distant stars, and it least 54 of them are within their suns ‘habitable zones’, where environmental temperatures could support liquid water and therefore life.
William Borucki, chief scientist of the Kepler mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View said “It’s very likely that life is common in our galaxy.” Borucki and his team released the results yesterday after four months of gathering data from Kepler’s search for planets among 156,000 stars, which are more than 2,000 light years away from Earth.
Of the 54 planets recorded and whose orbits lie within the all important habitable zones, five are close to Earth’s size while others range from twice the size of Earth to as large as our solar systems gas giant, Jupiter.
Kepler has found 1,235 planets, which are technical refered to as ‘exoplanets’, because they exist outside our solar system. They are a varied size, 662 are the size of Neptune, 288 are ‘super earths’ (twice the size of our own), 165 are Jupiter size and 19 are much larger than Jupiter.
The search for planets has focused on a region of space where constellations Lyra and Cygnus exist. Debra Fisher, a Yale astronomer said “Kepler has blown the lid off everything we’ve known about exoplanets, Im amazed”.
Kepler has also found a new mini solar system, with five tightly packed small planets which orbit close to their star and a giant planet flying in orbit further out. Some of the planets discovered are still listed as ‘candidates’ meaning that scientists have moer work to handle by computer to confirm that they really are planets and to ascertain their exact size, mass and orbit.
Kepler’s telescope is only surveying 1/400 of the spacecraft’s field of view in the visible sky which could mean that 3,000 light years from earth there must be at least 20,000 exoplanets in orbit. The telescope monitors 156,000 stars simultaneously every 30 minutes and measures infinitely small changes in their brightness
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