Scientists Celebrate Discovery Of 10 New Planets That Could Have Life

It's important to note that NASA's rules for what defines a "planet" are incredibly exacting.

The exoplanets represented in this newly updated catalogue include all of those detected - candidates and confirmed planets - while Kepler was aimed at the constellation Cygnus, and stared down the length of the Orion Spur, the small arm of the Milky Way Galaxy where Earth's solar system resides. The final Kepler catalog will serve as the foundation for more study to determine the prevalence and demographics of planets in the galaxy, while the discovery of the two distinct planetary populations shows that about half the planets we know of in the galaxy either have no surface, or lie beneath a deep, crushing atmosphere- an environment unlikely to host life.

This artist rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle, taken in 2015, depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star that is similar to our sun.

Kepler planet candidates, plotted by size relative to Earth and length of orbit, which is a function of distance from its star.

Kepler's steering wheels broke down several years ago, leaving it unable to scan the stars using the same technique that has yielded so many new worlds. And It's an important distinction to make, because Neptune-sized planets are nearly always inhospitable to life as we know it.

The search for extraterrestrials just got some serious pin drops on the celestial map with the discovery of 10 new planets that may have life. A dozen of the planets that seem to be in the potentially habitable zone circle Earth-like stars, not cooler red dwarfs. Only 50 of them made it into the elite club of Earth-size exoplanets orbiting in their sun's habitable zone. Now, we know that exoplanets can be cold gas giants, hot Jupiters, ocean worlds, ice giants, lava worlds and rocky planets. The exoplanet totals announced Monday reflect a final, extraordinarily detailed analysis of data collected over the first four years of Kepler's observations.

Until KOI-7711 is verified and earns an official Kepler planet name - a process that requires a different telescope (usually ground-based) to observe it transiting - this is all speculation.

NASA said that the Spitzer, Hubble and Kepler will continue to conduct follow-up studies.

KOI-7711, an unconfirmed exoplanet at this time, appears to be our best candidate for an Earth-like alien world. The space administration's James Webb Space Telescope will launch in 2018, which will be able to "detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet's atmosphere".

The division now is between two categories: "super-Earths", or rocky planets about 1.5 times the size of our own, and "mini-Neptunes", gassy planets more than 2.5 times Earth's size.

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