NASA Telescope Finds 10 More Planets That Could Have Life

NASA Kepler spacecraft

The potentially habitable space rocks, which have not yet been verified, are among 219 new planet candidates spotted by NASA's Kepler space telescope in the Cygnus constellation.

The new planets' existence must still be double-checked. The team found a clean division in the sizes of rocky, Earth-size planets and gaseous planets smaller than Neptune.

Due to their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler. It's created to find rocky planets (not gaseous ones like Jupiter) that are located in habitable zones of stars where temperatures are temperate enough to potentially sustain life as we know it. The gravity of a smaller super-Earth may not be strong enough to hold onto hydrogen; if it's close to its star, the hydrogen may get blasted away.

Monday's announcement of a long list of new planets credited to Kepler will be the last.

"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, Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and lead author of the catalog study. "It's fantastic, the things that Kepler has found".

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. "It has shown us these terrestrial worlds, and we still have all this work to do to really understand how common Earths are in the galaxy". 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.

Kepler performs its mission by gathering extremely stable observations of distant stars, and watches for when the light from those stars dims, due to a solid object (most likely a planet) passing between the telescope and that star.

"This number could have been very, very small, and I for one am ecstatic that we found 50 potentially habitable worlds orbiting nearby stars".

The Kepler space telescope hunts for planets by detecting the minuscule drop in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it, called a transit.

KOI-7711, an unconfirmed exoplanet at this time, appears to be our best candidate for an Earth-like alien world.

Including other telescope surveys, scientists have confirmed the existence of almost 3,500 planets beyond the solar system.

It seems that nature commonly makes rocky planets up to about 75 percent bigger than Earth. More than 30 of those have been verified, NASA said. Scientists with the mission expect that Kepler's K2 mission will continue until sometime in 2018.