"Getting Closer and Closer" --Kepler Mission Findings Reveal Alien Star Systems in a Milky Way Teeming with Planets
Five years ago today, on March 6, 2009, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope rocketed into the night skies to find planets around other stars within a field of view 1/400th the size of the Milky Way in search of potentially habitable worlds. Since then, Kepler has unveiled a whole new side of our galaxy -- one that is teeming with planets. Because of Kepler we now know that most stars have planets, Earth-sized planets are common, and planets quite unlike those in our solar system exist.
"This is the biggest haul ever,” says Jason Rowe of the nasa Ames Research Center, who co-led the research. The scientists studied more than 1,200 planetary systems and validated 715 planets. All the new worlds are members of multiplanet systems—stars with more than one orbiting satellite.
The image above is an artist's impression of the Kepler-62 star system as seen from the Earth-like planet "f", which scientists believe could support life. Kepler-62 is a star smaller and dimmer than the Sun about 1,000 light years away in the constellation Lyra. A pair of so-called "super-Earths" have been detected within the "habitable zone" of the star, which is around two billion years older than the Sun, raising the possibility of intelligent life more advanced than it is on Earth.
Although no-one knows what the planets are made of, they are believed to be rocky. One, Kepler-62f, is thought to have a radius about 1.4 times greater than the Earth's. The other, Kepler-62e, is estimated to be 1.6 times larger.
This past December 2013, a team of European astrophysicists discovered the most extensive planetary system to date, orbiting star KOI-351. The star system has seven planets, more than in other known planetary systems arranged in a similar fashion to the eight planets in the Solar System, with small rocky planets close to the parent star and gas giant planets at greater distances. . . .
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