This article originally ran November 15, 2012. We've dusted it off to celebrate the four-year anniversary of Kepler's lift off.--Eds
This week NASA announced its planet-hunter, the Kepler Space Telescope, just completed its primary mission. It's far from retired--Kepler got a nice long extension back in April, so it will keep staring at distant stars for up to four more years--but it's still a milestone for NASA and the planet-hunting community. To celebrate its next step, we're taking a look at some of Kepler's greatest hits so far.
Click to launch the photo gallery
Since its launch in early 2009, the space telescope has found a treasure trove of new worlds orbiting distant stars, suggesting that planets are plentiful in our galaxy and maybe the universe. It has found so many planets, they're practically garden variety--really a shocking thing when you sit and think about it. But it should not be this way. Exoplanets are awesome!
The space telescope is orbiting the sun, trailing behind Earth. It was designed to look for other Earths, and it hasn't found one yet--but it has come very close, as you can see in our slideshow.
"The initial discoveries of the Kepler mission indicate at least a third of the stars have planets and the number of planets in our galaxy must number in the billions," said William Borucki, Kepler's principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "The planets of greatest interest are other Earths, and these could already be in the data awaiting analysis. Kepler's most exciting results are yet to come."
Click here to see some of the best we've seen so far.
I wish the Kepler Space Telescope or NASA through any other means, finds planet X.
It's a shame Kepler looks at a region that is so far away. That means it hard (to impossible) for even next gen instruments to do close up investigations. And it's not part of candidates that we could send future generation spacepropes towards (once more advanced propulsion gets underway). It just doesn't interest me that much. My main interest goes to the local stars and their planets. Within 50 and less lightyears.
It's unlikely to be habitable but the recent ESO discovery of a planet at Alpha Centaury are the once that really fasinate me most. Strait out of many sciencefiction books. The ESO discovery of a planet in the habitable zone only 42 lightyears away is also a big hit. Future observations could analyse the atmosphere because it's close enough. The atmosphere could actually then reveal possible signs of life. Just imagine what that would for research budgets
@ Robot; Kepler can't be used to find "planet x" (ie, undiscovered planet in our solar system effect the orbits of other objects in the system) because it does not exist. The current model of the solar system show no gravitational effects from a yet unknown large body.
@ Greenmatrix Kelper is looking at local stars as well, but there are not very many starts with in 40 lys of Earth. Even if Earth's twin was found with in that radius the tech to build anything that can travel there is at least 50 years off (more likely 100 years off).
@cholin. Yes but almost everything in Keplers view is much further away to travel to. NASA is already thinking about a starship for those closest stars to reach. Those are the Stars that we should look for to find planets. Thankfully the ESA GAIA mission to lauch next year will map a billion mostly local stars and is capable of showing most of the big and closer earth sized planets. They are also building a copy of the famous ESO, HARPS instrument to view the Kepler region and confirm worlds.
And ESO is finishing an incredible new instrument beyond HARPS that looks at planets directly from earth instead of the wobble like HARPS. It's called 'SPHERE'. Quote:
"The challenge is to see a planet very close (0.1 - 3.0 arcseconds) to its parent star despite an extremely large contrast between star and planet (roughly in the order of 1/1,000,000 at infrared wavelengths and 1/1,000,000,000 in the optical). The ESO 'SPHERE' Planet Finder should become the most sensitive ground-based instrument for direct imaging of extra-solar planets."
Now if it's as impessive as HARPS then i can't wait for new discoveries!
Also they are working at far more powefull versions of HARPS to be installed on a giant VLT telescope in 2016. It's called strangely: 'Espresso'
And they are designing an even more powerful version to be used on the now beginning construction European Extremely Large Telescope. That device is called `Codex`.
All in all this will reveal many new planets up close and further in our Milky Way.
Once NASA probes were near Pluto's and its moon, they could calculate Pluto's and the moons weight\mass and gravity preciously and state that Pluto is just too small to influence the inner planets, something else much larger and farther out in our solar system must exist.
NASA is searching for a extremely large mass in the extreme parts of our solar system. They do refer to it as planet x.
New Horizons is supposedly the first probe to go any where near Pluto, and it won't get there until 2015. To which NASA probes do you refer?
There is something that is influencing the orbits of the inner planets that is unaccounted for? That's news to me. I would be interested to read any credible sources you have about this phenomenon.
...said the pot to the kettle.
Because calling people trolls, sock puppets and haters is super mature.
The repeat posting of this article now gives no additional information ....
These Kepler articles could be titled "Science confirms the obvious"
Why do people persist in thinking life is special, humans are special, the earth is special, the solar system is special, the galaxy is special?
All the evidence is to the contrary. Everything we can see so far in the universe is replicated millions and billions of times.
Finding another earth would be cool, but any of the planets in the database could have life, and that would be way more interesting than more of the same.
Hey dude, I want you to know, your special MAN!
BIG HUG - SQUISH!
Better check your facts. There are no discrepancies in the trajectories of any space probes such as Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 that can be attributed to the gravitational pull of a large undiscovered object in the outer Solar System. Today, most astronomers agree that there are no large undiscovered planetary beyond Neptune.
Please referee to
Mark Littman (1990). Planets Beyond: Discovering the Outer Solar System. New York: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-51053-6.
Govert Schilling (2009). The Hunt for Planet X: New Worlds and the Fate of Pluto. New York: Springer. ISBN 978-0-387-77804-4.
For more information.
Funny, people are chatting with ghost, lol.
Why was this article reposted with the same information?
Those jerks at PopSci removed my comments! Just trying to have a little silly fun. Geeze.
Sir, reading and writing on POPSCI is not supposed to be fun. Now hush up, sit straight in your chair young man!
The most important thing people should know is that because of Kepler it is estimated that there are 17 billion planets about the size of Earth and 25 billion planets slightly larger than Earth, JUST in our Milky Way Galaxy.
Because they confirmed a certain number of planets in a small patch of sky, out of the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, there are 42 billion other planets between 0.8 and 1.25 times the size of Earth.
So I infer that intelligent life is the rule, and not the exception, excluding people who make hateful comments on the Internet.