ShareThis Page

'We are not alone': NASA finds 10 more planets that could support life

| Monday, June 19, 2017, 1:12 p.m.
This artist rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows some of the 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star identified by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
This artist rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows some of the 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star identified by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

WASHINGTON — NASA's planet-hunting telescope has found 10 new planets outside our solar system that are likely the right size and temperature to potentially have life on them, broadly hinting that we are probably not alone.

After four years of searching, the Kepler telescope has detected a total of 49 planets in the Goldilocks zone. And it only looked in a tiny part of the galaxy, one quarter of one percent of a galaxy that holds about 200 billion of stars.

Seven of the 10 newfound Earth-size planets circle stars that are just like ours, not cool dwarf ones that require a planet be quite close to its star for the right temperature. That doesn't mean the planets have life, but some of the most basic requirements that life needs are there, upping the chances for life.

“Are we alone? Maybe Kepler today has told us indirectly, although we need confirmation, that we are probably not alone,” Kepler scientist Mario Perez said in a Monday news conference.

Outside scientists agreed that this is a boost in the hope for life elsewhere.

“It implies that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone around sun-like stars are not rare,” Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who was not part of the work, said in an email.

The 10 Goldilocks planets are part of 219 new candidate planets that NASA announced Monday as part of the final batch of planets discovered in the main mission since the telescope was launched in 2009. It was designed to survey part of the galaxy to see how frequent planets are and how frequent Earth-size and potentially habitable planets are. Kepler's main mission ended in 2013 after the failure of two of its four wheels that control its orientation in space.

It's too early to know how common potentially habitable planets are in the galaxy because there are lots of factors to consider including that Kepler could only see planets that move between the telescope vision and its star, said Kepler research scientist Susan Mullally of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

It will take about a year for the Kepler team to come up with a number of habitable planet frequency, she said.

Kepler has spotted more than 4,000 planet candidates and confirmed more than half of those. A dozen of the planets that seem to be in the potentially habitable zone circle Earth-like stars, not cooler red dwarfs.

Circling sun-like stars make the planets “even more interesting and important,” said Alan Boss, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution, who wasn't part of the Kepler team.

One of those planets — KOI7711 — is the closest analog to Earth astronomers have seen in terms of size and the energy it gets from its star, which dictates temperatures.

Before Kepler was launched, astronomers had hoped that the frequency of Earth-like planets would be about one percent of the stars. The talk among scientists at a Kepler conference in California this weekend is that it is closer to 60 percent, he said.

Kepler isn't the only way astronomers have found exoplanets and even potentially habitable ones. Between Kepler and other methods, scientists have now confirmed more than 3,600 exoplanets and found about 62 potentially habitable planets .

“This number could have been very, very small,” said Caltech astronomer Courtney Dressing. “I, for one, am ecstatic.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.