NASA has discovered 715 new planets. Their Kepler Mission was launched in 2009 with the sole intention of finding new planets. Scientists analyzed 2 of the 3.5 years of data collected, and their discoveries have almost doubled the previous 1000 confirmed planets, into what is now a total of almost 1700 planets. The Kepler Mission was expected to last 4 years, but do to budget constraints it lasted 3.5 years, having a total cost of $600 million.
The Kepler is a spacecraft specifically designed to support the Kepler, a telescope that is also called a photometer. It is named after Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician that worked with astronomer Tycho Brache. Combining his expertise in mathematics and Brahe’s astronomical data he discovered that the orbit of a planet is an eclipse. This became known as Kepler’s first law, the law NASA used to discover the 715 new planets. His second discovery was that planets move faster when they are closer to the sun, this became Kepler’s second law. His third discovery was based on a mathematical equation, which concluded that the radius of an orbit determines the time it takes for a planet to orbit the sun. Thus being the reason it takes 365 days for Earth to orbit the sun, while Mercury, planet much closer to the Sun 88 days, and Pluto 90,600 days. The published studies of his discoveries are now known as Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion. These laws describe the scientific motion of planets. Through his discoveries he became known as the first astrophysicist.
The Kepler telescope is designed to monitor the brightness of over 100,000 stars over the term of a mission, on average 3.5 years. It also has the largest camera ever launched into space. The main focus of the Kepler is to detect Earth sized planets. According to NASA, the goal is to understand planetary formation, frequency of these formations, the planetary structures and their systems, and the characteristic of the stars with terrestrial planets. The Kepler finds planets by specifically looking for dips in the brightness of a star when a planet crosses in front of it. The orbit and temperature determine whether it falls under a habitable zone. The orbit of is determined by the length of time it takes a planet to orbit a star. Of the planets discovered 4 fall under the habitable zone, meaning they have potential to host life by being the right distance from stars which permits the right temperature to support liquid water. There were also 9 exoplanets found in the habitable zone, these are planets that are outside of the solar system. Most of the 715 new planets NASA discovered are close in size to earth. The size is determined by the dip, which is the drop in the brightness of the star when the planet orbits. All of the planets have similar systems to earth, where multiple planets circle a star.
NASA’s next step is to detect whether there is life in these 715 newly discovered planets by detecting direct light from them. This would provide information on the type of atmosphere the planets have. According to NASA, this discovery puts the count of planets outside our solar system at close to 1700. This information is based on 2 of the 3.5 years of data collected. The discoveries will grow once the remaining data is analyzed.
By Dony Lugo