Nasa’s Kepler telescope has detected 1,284 new planets, out of which more than 100 are almost the same size as earth and are orbiting alien stars.
The new catalogue of planets detected by Kepler more than doubles the previous tally.
Kepler has also detected nine small planets that are within the so-called ‘habitable zones’. The ‘habitable zones’ are the zones where conditions are favourable for liquid water, and therefore life.
Nasa announced that it was the biggest single announcement of new exoplanets.
Dr Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California, said that there was the possibility of the existence of more than 10 billion potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way.
“About 24% of the stars harbour potentially habitable planets that are smaller than about 1.6 times the size of the Earth. That’s a number that we like because it’s below that size that we estimate planets are likely to be rocky,” said Dr Batalha.
“If you ask yourself where is the next habitable planet likely to be, it’s within about 11 light-years, which is very close.”
The Kepler telescope, named after astronomer Johannes Kepler, was launched on 7 March 2009.
Kepler Discovers Earth Like Planets
The statistical analyses of Kepler’s discovery of new planets helps astronomers understand how common planets like earth might be.
“The ultimate goal of our search is to detect the light from a habitable exoplanet and analyse that light for gases like water vapour, oxygen, methane and carbon dioxide – gases that might indicate the presence of a biological ecosystem,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at Nasa.
Dr Batalha said the Kepler mission was part of a “larger strategic goal of finding evidence of life beyond Earth: knowing whether we’re alone or not, to know… how life manifests itself in the galaxy and what is the diversity”.
“Being able to look up to a point of light and being able to say: ‘That star has a living world orbiting it.’ I think that’s very profound and answers questions about why we’re here.”
Validation Of New Planets
Dr Timothy Morton, from Princeton University in New Jersey, said most of the exoplanets found by Kepler fell into the super-Earth (1.2-1.9 times bigger than the radius of Earth) and sub-Neptune sized (1.9-3.1 times bigger than Earth’s radius).
The planets in this size range have no known analogues in the Solar System.
Scientists have used a new statistical technique to validate the 1,284 new exoplanets from a pool of 4,302 exoplanets from Kepler’s July 2015 catalogue.
The technique gives the astronomers a reliability score for each potential new world. The exoplanets with reliability greater than 99% were designated as “validated planets”.
The team also identified 1,327 exoplanets that do not meet the 99% threshold and will require further study.
Kepler employs the transit method to detect planets orbiting other stars.
The same orbital phenomenon was involved when Mercury passed across the face of the Sun on Monday.