Kepler marks five years in space

Mar 07, 2014 by Michele Johnson
The panel features an image of Kepler's launch and artist concepts of milestone discoveries (l to r): Kepler-9b and c, Kepler-10b, Kepler-11, Kepler-16b, Kepler-22 and Kepler-64f. The final panel illustrates exoplanet discoveries: blue is previous; red is previous Kepler; gold is Kepler's on Feb. 26. Credit: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel

(Phys.org) —Five years ago today, on March 6, 2009, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope rocketed into the night skies above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to find planets around other stars, called exoplanets, in search of potentially habitable worlds.

Since then, Kepler has unveiled a whole new side of our galaxy—one that is teeming with planets. Because of Kepler we now know that most stars have planets, Earth-sized planets are common, and planets quite unlike those in our solar system exist.

By analyzing Kepler data, scientists have identified more than 3,600 candidates believed to be planets, and verified that 961 of those candidates actually are planets, many as small as Earth. Discoveries made using Kepler now account for more than half of all the known exoplanets.

"During the last five years, Kepler has produced results needed to take the next big step forward in humankind's search for life in our galaxy— providing information needed for future missions that will ultimately determine the atmospheric composition of Earth-sized to discover if they could be habitable," said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Kepler's finds include planets that orbit in the , the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water. One example of a habitable zone planet found by the mission is known as Kepler-22b. At 2.4 times the size of Earth, it is thought to be too big to be rocky and support life. Scientists believe other habitable zone planets found by the Kepler mission might be rocky, such as Kepler-62f, which is 40 percent larger in size than Earth.

A twin to Earth—a planet with the same temperature and size as Earth—has not yet been identified, but the analysis is far from over as scientists continue to search the Kepler data for the tiny signature of such a planet.

Other Kepler discoveries include hundreds of star systems hosting multiple planets, and have established a new class of planetary system where planets orbit more than one sun.

In August of last year, the mission ended its science observations after a faulty reaction wheel affected the telescope's ability to point precisely. The mission may be able to operate in a different mode, and continue to do science. This next-generation mission proposal, called K2, will be considered for funding by NASA in the 2014 Astrophysics Senior Review of Operating Missions.

Explore further: NASA cries planetary 'bonanza' with 715 new worlds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA cries planetary 'bonanza' with 715 new worlds

Feb 26, 2014

NASA on Wednesday announced a torrent of new planet discoveries, hailing a "bonanza" of 715 worlds now known outside the solar system thanks to the Kepler space telescope's planet-hunting mission.

Kepler results usher in a new era of astronomy

Nov 04, 2013

Scientists from around the world are gathered this week at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., for the second Kepler Science Conference, where they will discuss the latest findings resulting from the analysis ...

Recommended for you

How can we find tiny particles in exoplanet atmospheres?

Aug 29, 2014

It may seem like magic, but astronomers have worked out a scheme that will allow them to detect and measure particles ten times smaller than the width of a human hair, even at many light-years distance.  ...

Spitzer telescope witnesses asteroid smashup

Aug 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the ...

Witnessing the early growth of a giant

Aug 27, 2014

Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble ...

User comments : 0