On Wednesday, the world became a whole lot bigger, when NASA unveiled its discovery of 715 new planets. All tolled, scientists had previously discovered just under 1,000 planets in our galaxy, so the new finding nearly doubled our awareness of what’s out there and conjures up a lot of exciting possibilities for new findings in the future, with its new system of narrowing the search.
The discoveries provide both hope and excitement, since NASA has discovered a new way to search for planets. The fact that the new method of discovery has nearly doubled the known number of planets in our galaxy, on its very first mission, provides a heightened sense of profundity and points to the high probabilities of many, many more.
Tuesday’s findings indicate that there will most likely be many new planetary discoveries to come, since the data used came from the first two years of Kepler’s voyage, meaning there is still possibly hundreds more findings left to be verified. Although the Kepler program had to be suspended last May due to a malfunction, in which its fine-pointing system failed, the nature of the discovery in a new technique indicates that whenever it continues the program will yield numerous results. NASA couldn’t give any certain estimates as to whether this particular Kepler Space Obvservatory would even be put back into service, although the new method itself will continue to change the game.
The new technique is called “verification by multiplicity” and it uses the logic of probability, focusing on stars that are likely to have more than one planet orbiting around them. In years past, Kepler’s discoveries were verified using other, less effective methods, like analyzing the gravitational effect that a planet has on the wobble of its sun.
Kepler’s discovery revealed that the new planets orbit 305 different stars, said Jason Rowe, a member of the Kepler science team who works at NASA Ames and the SETI Institute.
In fact, 95% of the newly discovered planets are much bigger than Earth, more closely resembling the size of Neptune, which is four times as big as Earth. The number of Earth-sized planets in Kepler’s database rose by more than 400 percent.
NASA’s exoplanet exploration program scientist, Douglas Hudgins, described Wednesday’s announcement as a major step toward the ultimate goal of NASA’s Kepler telescope, which is “finding Earth 2.0.”
Scientific papers describing the discoveries will be published March 10th in the Astrophysical Journal and NASA indicated they are already available as part of the Kepler mission’s online press kit. It seems likely that NASA will continue to discover planets at an exponential rate, considering one advancement in strategy alone has nearly doubled the results of the ongoing search. In fact, when one considers the reality of such a discovery, it begins to open up extreme possibilities, especially for the discovery of habitable planets outside of Earth’s galaxy. If there ever was a thought that we are all alone, it must seriously be starting to fade.
By Jeff Rowe