Thursday, February 27, 2014

NASA Discovers 715 New Planets

AMES RESEARCH CENTER, California -- NASA's Kepler mission announced on Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets orbiting around 305 stars.  This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to nearly 1,700.

According to NASA, nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. 
Four planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.

One of these new habitable zone planets, called Kepler-296f, orbits a star half the size and 5 percent as bright as our sun. Kepler-296f is twice the size of Earth, but scientists do not know whether the planet is a gaseous world, with a thick hydrogen-helium envelope, or it is a water world surrounded by a deep ocean.

"From this study we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular -- resembling pancakes -- not your classical view of an atom," said Jason Rowe, research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. "The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home."

Above Image: The artist concept depicts multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet.  The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer.  This angle is called edge-on.  Image Credit: NASA