Kepler’s Extended Mission: 4 New “Goldilocks” ExoPlanets Discovered
4 of the potentially new exoplanets orbit in their suns habitable zone, making them potential Goldilocks planets.
A Goldilocks planet is an extrasolar planet where liquid water might exist on the surface.
“There is no better way to kickoff the start of the Kepler extended mission to discover more possible outposts on the frontier of potentially life very worlds,” said Christopher Burke, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View California, who is leading the analysis.
Kepler’s initial mission was originally designed to operate through the year 2012. NASA’s senior review recommended the extension to add 4 additional years to Research for Earth size extrasolar planets that orbit around sun like stars similar to our own sun.
The Kepler mission was extended by 4 years on April 5, 2012
“Kepler has revolutionized our understanding of exoplanets and the study of stellar seismology variability,” said Roger Hunter, Kepler project manager at NASA Ames Research Ctr., Moffett Field California. “There is currently no other mission and development that can replace or surpassed the precision of Kepler. This extended mission will afford Kepler a unique opportunity to rewrite our understanding of the galaxy and our place in it.”
The mission’s discoveries beyond our solar system include the first unquestionably rocky planet; the first multiple-transiting planet system; the first small planet in the habitable zone; the first Earth-size planets; the smallest Mars-size planets; and the confirmation of a new class of double-star planetary systems.
Kepler’s 1st catalog of habitable planetary candidates was released in February 2012, and along with the new catalog brings the total of potential habitable planetary candidates to 2740.
The new data increases the number of stars discovered to have more than one planet candidate from 365 to 467.
“The large number of multicandidate systems being found by Kepler implies that a substantial fraction of exoplanets reside in flat multi-planet systems,” said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field California. “This is consistent with what we know about our own planetary neighborhood.”
The Kepler Space Telescope identifies planet candidates by repeatedly measuring the change in brightness of more than 150,000 stars in search of planets that pass in front, or “transit,” their host star.
At least three transits are required to verify a signal as a potential planet.
Candidates require additional follow-up observations and analyses to be confirmed as planets. At the beginning of 2012, 33 candidates in the Kepler data had been confirmed as planets. Today, there are 105.
The complete list of Kepler planet candidates is available in an interactive table at the NASA Exoplanet Archive. The archive is funded by Exoplanet Exploration Program to collect and make public data to support the search for and characterization of exoplanets and their host stars.
“The analysis of increasingly longer time periods of Kepler data uncovers smaller planets in longer period orbits– orbital periods similar to Earth’s,” said Steve Howell, Kepler mission project scientist at Ames. “It is no longer a question of will we find a true Earth analogue, but a question of when.”
Ames manages Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with JPL at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md, archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Wash. D.C.
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope’s extended mission is to scan the skies for exoplanets beyond our solar system, searching for Goldilocks planets outside the Milky Way.
Article by Jim Donahue
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