Thursday 27 July 2017

'We are not alone' - Nasa finds 10 new planets like Earth

An image from Nasa shows some of the new planet candidates. Photo: AP
An image from Nasa shows some of the new planet candidates. Photo: AP

Seth Borenstein in Washington

Nasa said its planet-hunting telescope has found 10 new planets outside our solar system that are probably the right size and temperature to potentially have life on them.

As the Kepler telescope finished its main mission, Nasa announced that it had seen a total of 49 planets in the 'Goldilocks' zone for possible life.

And it only looked in a tiny part of the galaxy.

Kepler scientist Mario Perez said that means that "we are probably not alone" because four years of data show how common Earth-like planets can be.

Outside scientists agreed that this is a boost in the hope for life elsewhere. Nasa said that several of the 10 new potentially habitable planets circle stars which are similar in size to our sun.

It also announced 219 new planets.

Seven of the 10 newly found Earth-size planets circle stars that are just like ours, not cool dwarf ones that require a planet to be quite close to its star for the right temperature.

That does not mean the planets have life, but some of the most basic requirements that life needs are there, upping the chances for life.

"Are we alone? Maybe Kepler today has told us indirectly, although we need confirmation, that we are probably not alone," Dr Perez said in a news conference.

Outside scientists agreed that this is a boost in the hope for life elsewhere. "It implies that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone around sun-like stars are not rare," Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who was not part of the work, said in an email.

The 10 Goldilocks planets are part of 219 new candidate planets that Nasa announced as part of the final batch of planets discovered in the main mission since the telescope was launched in 2009.

It was designed to survey part of the galaxy to see how frequent planets are, and how frequent Earth-size and potentially habitable planets are.

Kepler's main mission ended in 2013 after the failure of two of its four wheels that control its orientation in space.

It is too early to know how common potentially habitable planets are in the galaxy because there are lots of factors to consider, including that Kepler could only see planets that move between the telescope vision and its star, said Kepler research scientist Susan Mullally, of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

It will take about a year for the Kepler team to come up with a number of habitable planet frequency, she said.

Kepler has spotted more than 4,000 planet candidates and confirmed more than half of those.

A dozen of the planets that seem to be in the potentially habitable zone circle Earth-like stars, not cooler red dwarfs.

Irish Independent

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