NASA Kepler mission explores 11 planetary systems

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    NASA’s Kepler mission was launched to look for planetary systems and it is now reaping benefits with the discovery of 11 new planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets.

    This new discovery doubles the number of confirmed planets that span 11 planetary systems. The announcement also adds that all the newly discovered planets range in size from a little bigger than the earth to Jupiter’s size. But they have little chance of hosting life as they all happen to be nearer to their suns than venus is to our sun.

    Dimitar Sasselov, a Harvard astronomer and a co-investigator in the Kepler mission, said about the exciting discovery, “There is more diversity out there than our limited imaginations could come up with, which is good.”

    The Kepler mission was launched three years ago and cost about $600 million. The present discovery sends the total number of confirmed planets discovered by it to 61 and prospective planet to 2,326.

    Kepler uses various methods to ascertain the certainty of a prospective celestial mass to be a planet.

    Dan Fabrycky, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the lead author for a paper confirming four of the planetary systems, known as Kepler-29, 30, 31 and 32, further elaborated on the way a newly planetary system is confirmed, “By precisely timing when each planet transits its star, Kepler detected the gravitational tug of the planets on each other, clinching the case for 10 of the newly announced planetary systems.”

    Scientists in the Kepler mission are very excited about the great success of the mission and hope that Kepler would lead the discovery of a majority of the exoplanets detected beyond our solar system. Currently 70 planets have been discovered and confirmed (of which only 9 were discovered by missions other than Kepler).

    Another Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Doug Hudgins, said, “Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky. Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”

    The names of other of the recent discoveries are Kepler-25, 26, 27 and 28 which were confirmed by Fermilab’s Jason Steffen. Planets Kepler-23 and 24 were confirmed by Eric Ford of University of Florida. Planetary system Kepler 33 and the five planets around it were confirmed by Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. These last five are practically hugging their parent star, revolving around it closer than our Mercury revolves around the sun.

    Lissauer said, “The approach that was used to verify the Kepler-33 planets shows that the overall reliability of Kepler’s candidate multiple transiting systems is quite high. This is a validation by multiplicity.”