NASA’s Kepler Mission Finds Earth-size Planet Candidates in Habitable Zone, Six Planet System

Narrator: Scientists working on NASA’s Kepler Mission announced they have discovered more eleven hundred planetary candidates in the space telescope’s field-of-view. The findings are based on the results of observations of more than 156-thousand stars conducted between May and September of 2009. Bill Borucki: Now, these are candidates, but most of them, I’m convinced, will be confirmed in the coming months and years. That’s more than all the people have found so far in history. Narrator: Among the eleven hundred planet candidates, the Kepler science team has found 54 that are orbiting in their stars’ habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on the surface of a planet. Five of those candidates are near-Earth size and the other 49 range in size from twice the size of the Earth to larger than Jupiter. Ground-based observatories and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope will be used this spring and summer to help determine if these candidates can be validated as planets. Not only is the Kepler team finding individual planetary candidates, they are also discovering some of their first multi-planet systems as well. They have detected 86 potential planetary systems that may have two or more planets. One system, named Kepler-11, has been confirmed to have at least six planets orbiting a sun-like star. Jack Lissauer: The Kepler-11 planetary system is amazing. It’s amazingly compact, it’s amazingly flat, there’s an amazingly large number of big planets orbiting close to their star. We didn’t know such systems could even exist. There’s certainly far fewer than one percent of stars that have systems like Kepler-11. But whether it’s one in a thousand, one in ten thousand or one in a million, that we don’t know, because we only know one of them. Narrator: Scientists are excited that the number of planetary candidates discovered in four months worth of data shows promise that a relatively large number of planets may exist in our galaxy. Jack Lissauer: We’re learning so much more about the orbits of planets, the masses of planets, the sizes of planets and we’re just beginning. Kepler is still returning data and we’re going to learn a fantastic amount about the diversity of planets out there, around stars within our galaxy.


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