NASA’s Kepler Mission discovers multi-planet system in Milky Way

August 26, 2010

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler Mission released its first official findings today at press event. These are the first fully confirmed exoplanet discoveries by the mission, and there will be many more confirmations coming down the pipe no doubt. This system isn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped… on Tuesday I read that NASA was planning a press conference to announce Kepler’s findings so naturally I was hoping they’d found a planet similar to earth, but I seriously doubted the news would be that exciting. I’d say it’ll be at least another year before any earth twins are confirmed, because obviously an earth twin would have an orbital period close to 1 earth year, and multiple transits would be needed to confirm it as a planet.

The system discovered is the first multi-planet system confirmed using the transit method (measuring the dip in light seen from a star as a planet crosses between us and the star). It has two Saturn-sized planets and possibly one “super earth,” a planet roughly 1.5 times the size of earth. This smaller planet has not been confirmed, however, so it’s still just an “exoplanet candidate.” Furthermore, they say the smaller planet is VERY close to the star, completing an orbit in only a matter of days. This means the planet would be scorchingly hot and quite unsuitable for any kind of life. While not the “holy grail” of planet-hunting, these findings confirm that the techniques and devices being used to hunt for exoplanets are indeed working, and that we’re well on our way toward finding that illusive earth-twin. (Via NASA)

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