NASA Just Discovered 10 Earth-Like Alien Planets

NASA Kepler spacecraft

Those new additions bring the total number of potentially habitable planets detected by Kepler to 49.

NASA said the latest catalog is the most complete and detailed survey of potential exoplanets yet compiled.

Liquid water is thought to be key to the existence of life.

Fans of the Drake Equation can rejoice, because NASA just announced that the Kepler spacecraft, which has been scanning the stars to find more exoplanets, has discovered 1,284 new planets, which NASA calls "the single largest finding of planets to date".

The news comes during the Kepler Science Conference and NASA's Kepler exoplanet week, to celebrate the successes of these missions and the scientists who have made exoplanet discoveries possible.

"It is interesting that we don't have what appears to be the most common type of planet in the galaxy", Fulton said. All of Kepler's observations were in a small patch of sky between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra. "It's fantastic the things that Kepler has found, it has shown us these terrestrial worlds, and we still have all this work to do to understand how common Earths are in the galaxy".

To get these newly refined results, the team moved away from identifying each signal by hand - an inconsistent method according to Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute.

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One of Kepler's other big surprises was a profusion of planets intermediate in size between Earth and Neptune. As it trailed behind Earth's on its yearly trip around the sun, Kepler constantly watched more than 160,000 stars for any hint of dimming.

Most exoplanets tend to have small orbital periods (less than 100 days) because it's easier to confirm a planet when you see several transits within a short period.

Below is a plot showing only the small subset of relatively Earth-sized planet candidates.

With the final catalog of planetary candidates from Kepler's original mission released, NASA will now focus on the "K2" mission, which began in 2014. This data will enable scientists to determine what planetary populations - from rocky bodies the size of Earth, to gas giants the size of Jupiter - make up the galaxy's planetary demographics.

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.

Typically, exoplanets fall in one of two categories: super-Earths, which have a radius that is 1.5 times that of the Earth, rocky surfaces, and often little to no atmosphere; and those that are like mini-Neptunes, which re about twice the Earth's radius with thick atmospheres and no rocky surface.

A follow-up study, described today by astronomer Benjamin Fulton of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, fine-tuned the size measurements for some 2000 Kepler planets using the Keck telescopes in Hawaii. "Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree".

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