Researchers working with NASA’s Kepler Mission have been hard at work over the last several years searching for habitable exoplanets with the Kepler space telescope in hopes of someday discovering alien life outside our solar system. Earlier this year, NASA surprised the astronomy world with the discovery of seven new exoplanets orbiting the dwarf star Trappist-1 in the constellation Aquarius, three of which are believed to possibly be habitable. That mission is still ongoing, and another NASA announcement has revived the growing hope that we might soon find life elsewhere in the cosmos.
At a press conference yesterday at NASA’s Silicon Valley-based Ames Research Center, Kepler researchers announced the discovery of 219 new exoplanets, out of which ten are believed to be in the habitable “Goldilocks” zone where life might be possible. That discovery marks the end of Kepler’s survey of a section of space surrounding the constellation Cygnus.
Mario Perez, a Kepler Mission astrophysicist with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, says the search for these types of planets are the first step in finding another Earth:
The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near Earth-analogs – planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth. Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth.
We’ll need another Earth pretty soon at the rate we’re going. So far, the Kepler mission has discovered over four thousand planet candidates, out of which more than half have been confirmed. Of those 2,335 planets, 50 have been identified as Earth-sized and nearly 30 have been confirmed in the habitable zone.
Unless we can hurry up and invent faster modes of interstellar travel, it’s likely no one reading this article will live to see a single one of those planets explored. We’re the middle children of history. No way to get into deep space. Still, knowing they’re out there is some consolation. If we’ve discovered close to 30 potentially habitable planets so far in the minuscule amount of space we’ve surveyed, statistics would say there have to be many, many more in the universe. At least one’s got to have weird alien life, right?