On Monday, NASA’s Kepler space telescope team released a mission catalog introducing 219 new planet candidates. 10 of the planets are near-Earth size and are orbiting in their star’s habitable zone. In other words, they’re within the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.
This is the most comprehensive and detailed catalog ever released of planets outside our solar system. The list was derived from Kepler’s first four years of data. It’s also the final catalog from the spacecraft’s view of just one patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation. All the data is publicly available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
With the release of this latest catalog, there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth sized, habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.
Kepler’s data suggests two distinct size groupings of small planets. Both results have significant implications for the search for life. The final Kepler catalog will serve as the foundation for more study to determine the prevalence and demographics of planets in the galaxy. The discovery of the two distinct planetary populations shows that about half the planets we know of in the galaxy either have no surface, or lie beneath a deep, crushing atmosphere unlikely to host life.
These findings were presented at a news conference Monday at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.