November 4, 2013
Scientists Gather To Discuss 833 Potential New Exoplanets
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
An international group of scientists are gathering for the second Kepler Science Conference this week at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Researchers will be discussing the latest findings from the Kepler Space Telescope data, which includes the discovery of 833 new candidate planets. Ten of the new exoplanets are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in the habitable zone.
New Kepler data shows that most stars in the Milky Way galaxy have at least one planet, which suggests that the majority of stars in the sky may be home to planetary systems. Since the Kepler team announced the first confirmed habitable zone planet, four more habitable zone candidates have been confirmed.
"The impact of the Kepler mission results on exoplanet research and stellar astrophysics is illustrated by the attendance of nearly 400 scientists from 30 different countries at the Kepler Science Conference," said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at Ames. "We gather to celebrate and expand our collective success at the opening of a new era of astronomy."
The number of planetary candidates identified by Kepler has increased by 29 percent since the last update in January. According to SETI Institute scientists Jason Rowe, 78 percent of the planets that have been found since January are categorized as Earth-sized planets. These findings support the theory that smaller planets are more common.
An independent analysis suggests that one in five stars like the sun is home to a planet up to twice the size of Earth. This study, led by Erik Petigura from the University of California, used publicly accessible data from Kepler to reach this finding.
Scientists have also used Kepler data to study the interior of stars, examining the sound waves generated by the boiling motion beneath the surface of the star. The team probed the interior structure of a star similar to how geologists use seismic waves generated by earthquakes to probe the interior of Earth.
"Stars are the building blocks of the galaxy, driving its evolution and providing safe harbors for planets. To study the stars, one truly explores the galaxy and our place within it," William Chaplin, professor of astrophysics at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, said in a press release. “Kepler has revolutionized asteroseismology by giving us observations of unprecedented quality, duration and continuity for thousands of stars. These are data we could only have dreamt of a few years ago."
Kepler’s mission ended earlier this year when two of the spacecraft’s gyroscope-like reaction wheels failed. These wheels help to precisely direct the spacecraft towards the stars, which is a key aspect when keeping watch for “dips” in starlight in the hunt for exoplanets. NASA said back in August that it had given up trying to revive the telescope, but added that it was looking into other areas of research Kepler may be able to be useful in.
Although Kepler may not be functional, the upcoming meeting proves how much valuable data Kepler was able to collect during its four-year expedition.