During the excitement of Ming Week, we missed NASA’s announcement about new discoveries from the orbital telescope Kepler. Ever since the reaction wheels used to point Kepler started failing, the plucky space observatory has been in real trouble. Kepler’s mission has been steeply downgraded and it is not the mighty force of discovery it once was…but…a huge amount of data which had been collected prior to these malfunctions had not yet been analyzed. On May 10th, NASA announced that they had gone through this information and discovered another 1284 planets, a handful of which are somewhat Earthlike.
This is more than 30% more planets than we previously knew about, all dumped on the public in one day. It is a phenomenal number: more than a thousand new planets to think about. It is surprising to me that none of these planets have the (approximate) same mass and orbital distance from their respective stars as Earth. Maybe our solar system really is unusual. There sure do seem to be a lot of weird hot Neptunes and giant fast rocky planets and other strange & unanticipated worlds. What’s going on, planetary physicists? Could you start explaining some of this stuff?
However Kepler’s mission to find Earthlike planets was not a wash. There are indeed other planet in the habitable zone. Some of them could have liquid water and clement atmospheres.
The real excitement of this data is that astronomers will already know where to point the next generation of exponentially more powerful telescopes as they come online in the next decade. I can hardly wait for astronomers to point the Webb Space Telescope and the Large Magellan Space Telescope at some of these newly discovered worlds!