NASA‘s Kepler Survey Catalog was released Monday. It’s a complete data set of the findings of the Kepler Space Telescope, which looked at the same patch of sky for 4 years to determine how many and what kind of Exoplanets are in our galaxy. The results are freaking astounding!!
In total, Kepler has identified 4,034 planet candidates, 2,335 of which have been verified. According to NASA.gov “Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.” WHAT?!? Yep. That’s astounding. That’s 30 verified rocky planets that are in the zone that scientists consider most ideal to support liquid surface water and therefore life, 10 of them newly unveiled with the final data release. All of that in one slice of sky in one galaxy and in one constellation, (Cygnus constellation). Mind -boggling isn’t it?
Not only that, but scientists on the Kepler research team found even MORE information that they weren’t expecting. They found a distinct pattern in the size and classification of planets in that area of the sky. For reasons they can’t yet explain, there is a significant divide in planets that are rocky and roughly Earth-sized and ‘mini-Neptunes’ which are larger gaseous ice and ocean worlds.
As I understand it, this means that the size of the planet can give clues as to what it is made of. If you’re around Earth-sized, you’re rocky; if you’re bigger than that, you’re gas, ice and ocean. My favorite moniker though? Lava worlds. Benjamin Fulton, lead author in the second study said it like this; “Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree.”
Though Kepler has completed it’s original mission, it continues to look at the sky in an extended mission dubbed K2, so stay tuned for more mind-blowing new information from space!