October 20, 2017

03.02.11: Kepler Hits Paydirt.

The Brave New Worlds of Kepler-11…  (Credit: NASA/Tim Pyle).

The number of potential exoplanets has more than doubled… in one press release! Wednesday at 1PM EST, NASA researchers have revealed the latest findings from the Kepler spacecraft. And what a mother lode… Today’s Kepler announcement jumps the number of exoplanet candidates to over 1,200. Keep in mind, that’s potential exoworlds needing confirmation. The results were based on 4 months of observation. Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission stares in the direction of the constellation Cygnus looking for a tiny dimming as a hidden world passes in from of a star as seen from the vantage point of Kepler. Remember, the dips that Kepler is measuring are tiny; in the order of 0.01 magnitudes of brightness or smaller. The fact that Kepler is staring off into Cygnus is not by chance… the region is along the galactic plane and very star rich.

A quick snapshot of the “Kepler 1200″ planet candidates breaks down as follows= 68 Earth-sized, 288 “super Earths,” 662 Neptune-sized, & 165-Jupiter-size worlds. Keep in mind the term “Earth-like world” is still pretty general in terms of exoplanets…at a distance, Venus would appear Earth-like. Not the kind of destination you would be inclined to dispatch a multi-generational space ark to! Kepler is also seeing smaller candidates in more leisurely orbits, a sign that detection ability is getting more refined over time. Yale astronomer Debra Fisher stated in the conference Wednesday that, “The detection of large planets is always going to be easier than the small guys.” What’s interesting is that the Kepler discovery of potential multiple systems will finally allow us to characterize and perhaps classify various solar systems. The Kepler discoveries may even go a long way towards telling us how rare/common our own solar system is: the vaulted fp in the Drake Equation. Fischer’s primary specialty is detection of planets via the other preferred method of radial velocity. During the interview, Fischer stated that radial velocity techniques would have to refine their sensitivity to within 10 centimeters per second to confirm an Earth-sized world in the Kepler data. Fischer also made mention of Galaxy Zoo and their new exoplanet search program; yay, citizen science! (Did you know-students have discovered exoplanets in the past while learning to construct search algorithms!)

Kepler scientists also announced a fresh confirmed discovery-a system with the most transiting exoplanets yet detected clustered within an equivalent radius of the orbit of Venus. Kepler-11 is a star system 2,000 light years distant consisting of a sun like star with six transiting worlds: the animation is fairly mind-blowing! Earlier this year: Kepler’s 1st rocky planet Kepler-10b, and the hits just keep on coming.

Kepler only grabs a tiny slice of the sky on a short mission- imagine if the proposed Terrestrial Planet Finder series could ever get off the ground? The possibility could exist that we could have spectral signatures hinting at life processes on distant worlds in our lifetime. In any event, its definitely “raining exo-worlds” as we eventually knew it would… astro-bloggers are gonna be busy! I can hear the keys clattering…


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Dickinson, helene rose. helene rose said: RT @Astroguyz: 03.02.11: Kepler Hits Paydirt: http://bit.ly/ib4EGh Our 2 cents and a synopsis on why the latest exoplanet finds are impo … [...]

  2. [...] planets looked slim. To date, 779 extra-solar planets have been discovered using a variety of methods, providing researchers with enough data to classify and characterize various types of planetary [...]

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