For those who have long believed in or hoped for the possibility of human life out in space, the search just got a lot closer to reality. Only days ago, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the discovery of not just one or two, but 715 new planets in our galaxy.
Prior to the announcement, only about 1,000 planets had been found to date, so this new breakthrough nearly doubles the historic count. The detection is also important because it is the largest number of planets ever discovered or announced at a single time, according to CNN.
Kepler opens new doors
According to NASA Scientist Jack Lissauer at the Ames Research Center in California, “We’ve been able to open the bottleneck to access the mother lode and deliver…more than 20 times as many planets as has ever been found and announced at once.” This amazing discovery is the result of some early results by the Kepler space telescope, which was launched in 2009.
According to noted NASA Scientist Douglas Hudgins, “Kepler has really been a game-changer for our understanding of the incredible diversity of planets and planetary systems in our galaxy.” In part, the reason for its astounding success lies with a new technique scientists have applied to their goal of finding planetary bodies akin to Earth.
Kepler is able to search and find more relevant space data by employing a new technique known as “verification by multiplicity.” That is to say, the search for these new planets is based in part on the laws of probability.
Increasing the odds of finding another Earth
By searching for stars likely to have more than one planet, Kepler is more likely to find planets that could be located within “habitable zones” or, as described by CNN, “the right distance from a star for a moderate temperature that might sustain liquid water.” It is believed that finding water in liquid form is the first clue to finding human life.
While most of the recently reported newly found “exoplanets” (planets outside our own solar system) do not meet this criteria, there are at least four that could sustain human life based on the data guiding the Kepler search. Of those four potential planets, three are twice as large as Earth, and one orbits (in a 30-day cycle) a sun that is half the size of our own.
With more data due to be relayed and analyzed, scientists expect to be able to detect more planets with climates comparable to that of Earth. Said Scientist Jason Rowe, one of the research team’s co-leaders, “The more we explore, the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars.”
Findings before the fall
The results of the Kepler space telescope that were just revealed were collected “before it was sidelined by a pointing system problem last year,” according to The Guardian newspaper. During that fully functioning time, the Kepler space telescope accumulated four productive years’ worth of data, while targeting more than 160,000 different stars and their associated planets. In total, the Kepler has itself found 961 planets during its time traveling through space.