NASA’s Kepler mission has announced its most significant achievement – the discovery of 1,284 new planets – thus raising the number of known alien planets by more than 60 percent.
“This announcement more than doubles the number of confirmed planets from Kepler,” said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth.”
NASA has completed its analysis on the basis of the Kepler space telescope’s July 2015 planet candidate catalog. There were 4,302 potential planets. The probability of being a planet greater than 99 percent – the minimum required to earn the status of “planet” – was identified for 1,284 of the candidates. Another 1,327 objects do not meet the 99 percent to be verified as planets and will undergo additional study. The rest of 707 objects are most probably some other astrophysical phenomena.
“Before the Kepler space telescope launched, we did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy. Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. “This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever-closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe.”
Since the first planets were discovered outside our solar system more than two decades ago, researchers have been using a laborious, one-by-one process of verifying suspected planets. However, NASA’s latest announcement bases on a statistical analysis method that can be applied to many planet candidates simultaneously. “Planet candidates can be thought of like bread crumbs,” says Timothy Morton, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey and lead author of the scientific paper published in The Astrophysical Journal. “If you drop a few large crumbs on the floor, you can pick them up one by one. But, if you spill a whole bag of tiny crumbs, you’re going to need a broom. This statistical analysis is our broom.”
Kepler was launched in March 2009 and became the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets. “They say not to count our chickens before they’re hatched, but that’s exactly what these results allow us to do based on probabilities that each egg (candidate) will hatch into a chick (bona fide planet),” said Natalie Batalha, co-author of the paper and the Kepler mission scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “This work will help Kepler reach its full potential by yielding a deeper understanding of the number of stars that harbor potentially habitable, Earth-size planets — a number that’s needed to design future missions to search for habitable environments and living worlds.”
NASA makes multiple patents available for unrestricted commercial use
Along with the verification of 1,284 new planets, NASA has also released 56 of its previously patented technologies to the public domain making them absolutely free for unrestricted commercial use. NASA offers a searchable database that contains thousands of expired NASA patents already in the public domain.
“By making these technologies available in the public domain, we are helping foster a new era of entrepreneurship that will again place America at the forefront of high-tech manufacturing and economic competitiveness,” said Daniel Lockney, NASA’s Technology Transfer program executive. “By releasing this collection into the public domain, we are encouraging entrepreneurs to explore new ways to commercialize NASA technologies.” “This patents release is the latest in NASA’s long tradition of extending the benefits of its research and development into the public sector.”