10 new planets that could have life discovered

The newest Kepler catalog draws out 219 new planetary candidates and infers that 10 of them may be habitable - doubling the number of planetary candidates in the habitable zone of their star.

Scientists found the planet candidates in a final batch of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus.

The Kepler data set is the only set containing a catalog of these near Earth-sized planets with roughly the same orbit, according to Perez. "Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth".

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

The habitable zone is the area that's not too close and not too far from a star, and in which a planet might support water, the basis for life on Earth.

These 219 new planet candidates discovered are outside the solar system. There have been almost 50 planets that have been detected as the near-earth zone habitable zone candidates and 30 of them have been verified. Of those, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. The study also discovered that about half the planets in the galaxy either have no surface or lie beneath a deep, crushing atmosphere - an environment unlikely to host life.

These findings include 50 near-Earth sized planets in all, in which 30 of them have been verified.

The Kepler space telescope finds planets by detecting the minuscule drop in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it.

A second research group also used the Kepler data for comparative analysis involving measurements taken from ground-based telescopes in order to calculate the approximate sizes and compositions of the exoplanets.

This sharpens the dividing line between potentially habitable planets and those that are inhospitable to life as we know it, the researchers said.

With the release of this catalog there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler.

The K2 mission, which began in 2014, is extending Kepler's legacy to new parts of the sky and new fields of study, adding to NASA's "arc of discovery".

With Monday's addition of planets, the original Kepler mission now has resulted in the identificatoin of 4,043 planet candidates.

Caltech astronomer Courtney Dressing said: This number could have been very, very small.

  • Carolyn Briggs