Using Kepler Satellite Data Astronomers Might Have Discovered More Than 400 New Planets
Star Cluster NGC 6791 from Kepler First Light Image. April 2009.
Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
Using data from NASA’s Kepler satellite, astronomers have identified possible evidence for 461 new planets outside our solar system. The data also seems to indicate that the Milky Way could contain approximately 17 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting stars, some of which are positioned in their star’s habitable zone, where liquid water and, possibly, life might exist.
To identify planets, the satellite periodically measures the brightness of more than 150,000 stars. When a planet transits in front of their stars from Kepler’s point of view, the brightness decreases. For the satellite to confirm the existence of a planet, at least three transits must be recorded. The new findings are based on data compiled by Kepler from May 2009 until March 2010.
From that same data, scientists have suggested that approximately 17 percent of stars in the Milky Way have an Eart-sized planet orbiting them at a distance closer than Mercury orbits our sun.
To confirm these findings, astronomers need to verify Kepler’s data with measurements from other telescopes.