NASA has announced the latest round of discoveries from its Kepler survey and they include 10 new planets that could support life.
Today's announcement comes as a result of the survey carried out by the Kepler space telescope that is being used to search the universe for planets which could support life. The telescope is calibrated to search for rocky planets within a star's habitable zone where the temperatures would be capable of supporting life. But the search for habitable planets is a tricky one. Some planets are either too close to or too far way from their host star resulting in extremes of heat and cold that would make it impossible for life to flourish.
In total, Kepler has identified 4,034 potential exoplanets. Out of those candidates, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets and 50 have been designated as candidates that could potentially support alien life.
Given the vastness of space, Kepler doesn't search for planets directly. Rather, it watches for the dimming of a star that could signify a planet passing in front of it. Of course, other things could be passing in front of the star such as asteroids. This is why NASA has only verified about half of these potential exoplanets. With enough time, they should be able to determine the status of more of these candidates.
One of those potentially habitable planets is KOI — Kepler object of interest — 7711. KOI-7711 is considered a potential Earth-analogue due to the fact that appears to be of a similar size and distance from its star. That being said, there is a lot we don't know about this planet so it is too soon to tell if it truly is Earth's cousin.
While Kepler is searching for alien life, the data gathered does serve another purpose which is helping scientists classify planets. One team of researchers analyzed the Kepler data and found two distinct varieties of smaller planets. The first set was of rocky Earth-sized planets, and the other had small gas planets about the size of Neptune.
"We like to think of this study as classifying planets in the same way that biologists identify new species of animals," said Benjamin Fulton, doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and lead author of the study. "Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree."