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NASA discovers 10 new Earth-size exoplanets

20 June 2017

Earth might have more company in the universe.

The Kepler spacecraft continues to make observations in new patches of sky in its extended mission, searching for planets and studying a variety of interesting astronomical objects, from distant star clusters to objects such as the TRAPPIST-1 system of seven Earth-size planets, closer to home.

"Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future Nasa missions to directly image another Earth".

WASHINGTON (AP) — NASA's planet-hunting telescope has found 10 new planets outside our solar system that are likely the right size and temperature to potentially have life on them, broadly hinting that we are probably not alone.

The Kepler telescope has added several hundred new candidate exoplanets to its stable of 4034, including 10 that are near-Earth-size, in orbits that would allow liquid water at the surface.

"This carefully-measured catalog is the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy's most compelling questions - how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?" said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute and lead author of the catalog, at the announcement.

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Ten of the planets are potentially rocky, close to the size of Earth and within the habitable zone of the stars they orbit - meaning they could support liquid water on their surface. For the first four years of Kepler's mission, the space telescope trained its telescopic eye on a small region in space, specifically in the Cygnus constellation, and of the suspected exoplanets, 2,335 have been verified as actually being planets.

The search for extraterrestrials just got some serious pin drops on the celestial map with the discovery of 10 new planets that may have life.

Before Kepler, astronomers only knew of giant Jupiter-sized exoplanets, some in astonishingly tight orbits around their stars.

The result: 4,034 exoplanet candidates. This is certainly the week for exploring such ideas, however, during the Kepler Science Conference, which runs from June 19-23, at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

At just 31 per cent larger than Earth, it would most certainly be a rocky world, but with slightly higher gravity. Kepler's main mission ended in 2013 after the failure of two of its four wheels that control its orientation in space. The team found a clean division in the sizes of rocky, Earth-size planets and gaseous planets smaller than Neptune.

"KOI" stands for "Kepler object of interest". The space administration's James Webb Space Telescope will launch in 2018, which will be able to "detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet's atmosphere". He likened the discovery to realizing that mammals and reptiles are on separate branches of the evolutionary tree.

NASA discovers 10 new Earth-size exoplanets