A jaw-dropping video of all the 2299 currently discovered exoplanets and candidates, circling around one hypothetical star. This gives a good view of all the variation in size and orbit of currently discovered planets (including smaller, Earth-like ones).
This is pretty astonishing, if you remember that before 1988, no exoplanet had ever been discovered, and during the 1990s, only a few. But recent technological advances have made it possible to identify and confirm thousands of exoplanets – gas giants like Jupiter, but also Earth-like ones – only in the last couple of years. You can look them up in the Exoplanet Orbit Database or the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia.
As of 2012, 777 exoplanets in 623 planetary systems have been confirmed, and about 2300 are awaiting confirmation. It is estimated that more than 50% of Sun-like systems have planets (and planets have been discovered circling other types of stars as well). And of course, all of these have moons as well.
Yet, aside from on the internet, this facet of astronomy – unlike other big scientific projects of this era, such as CERN, the ISS and the Mars rover Curiosity – doesn’t get that much attention. Yet, NASA’s Kepler space telescope mission, searching for habitable planets, has done hugely important work, showing how even a small section of the universe is teeming with all kinds of objects.
Now, only to find the Goldilocks planet (perhaps Gliese 581g or d, Kepler 22b, or HD 85512 b), suitable to contain life…
The news is already a day old, but I still want to highlight it: for the first time, a rocky exoplanet has been discovered in the habitable zone surrounding a Sun-sized star. The planet, Kepler-22b, is only 2,4 times the size of Earth, its average temperature is a comfortable 22 degrees Celcius (perfect!), and according to NASA scientists the surface might consist of rock. One caveat: this is not exactly sure, and it might be that only the core consists of rock and the rest is gas…
But let’s not spoil the fun! Let’s also not spoil it by the fact that it is 600 lightyears away. Kepler is probably teeming with extraterrestrial life, and will otherwise make a great spot for colonization efforts. I can’t wait! Also check out this nice Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, a database containing the hundreds and hundreds of exoplanets currently discovered.
A new planet outside Earth’s solar system has been identified with many similarities to our own – making it the latest best potential target for life.
Kepler 22-b, which is about 2.4 times the size of Earth and lies in the so-called “Goldilocks zone”, has a relatively comfortable surface temperature of about 22C (72F) and orbits a star not unlike Earth’s sun.
But while astronomers believe that it “probably” also possesses water and land, earthlings secretly harbouring hopes that such a planet could potentially host new colonies from our own increasingly overpopulated home may be in for a disappointment.
About 600 light-years from Earth, Kepler 22-b is a considerable trek away while experts are not yet sure if it is made mostly of rock, gas or liquid.
The discovery was made by Nasa‘s Kepler planet-hunting telescope. It is the first time Kepler confirmed a planet outside Earth’s solar system in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold habitable zone.
Twice before, astronomers have announced planets found in that zone, but neither was as promising. One was disputed; the other is on the hot edge of the zone.
More than 1,000 new planet candidates have been discovered by the Kepler telescope, nearly doubling the previously known count. Ten of the candidates are close to Earth’s size while Kepler-22b is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun.
“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at Nasa headquarters in Washington.
“Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of Nasa’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.”
“Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet,” said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at Nasa’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler 22-b. “The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season.”
NASA’s Kepler Mission – a small satellite observing deep space – has found 700 “suspected” new planets, of which up to 140 are similar in size to Earth.
Scientists celebrated Sunday after finding more than 700 suspected new planets — including up to 140 similar in size to Earth — in just six weeks of using a powerful new space observatory.
Early results from NASA’s Kepler Mission, a small satellite observing deep space, suggested planets like Earth were far more common than previously thought.
Past discoveries suggested most planets outside our solar system were gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn — but the new evidence tipped the balance in favor of solid worlds.
Astronomers said the discovery meant the chances of eventually finding truly Earth-like planets capable of sustaining life rose sharply.
NASA so far formally announced only five new exoplanets — those outside our solar system — from the mission because its scientists were still analyzing Kepler’s finds to confirm they are actually planets.
“The figures suggest our galaxy, the Milky Way [which has more than 100 billion stars] will contain 100 million habitable planets, and soon we will be identifying the first of them,” said Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and a scientist on the Kepler Mission. “There is a lot more work we need to do with this, but the statistical result is loud and clear, and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there.”