NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft has found two new worlds that have orbits and sizes similar to our world. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft also recently found a new planet – called HIP 116454b – that’s 180 light-years from Earth, 2.5 times its diameter, and has nine-day orbit around its sun.
HIP 116454b moves around a star that’s smaller and cooler than our sun – but conditions would still be too hot for life as we know it. The planet and its star are in the direction of the constellation Pisces.
Here’s what NASA says about how the Kepler spacecraft found the new planet:
Kepler’s onboard camera detects planets by looking for transits — when a distant star dims slightly as a planet crosses in front of it. The smaller the planet, the weaker the dimming, so brightness measurements must be exquisitely precise. To enable that precision, the spacecraft must maintain steady pointing.
The full academic report on the number of habitable planets includes three that had been previously confirmed, as well as one body, KOI-4427.01, that hasn’t technically been classified as a planet.
This is because the computer program that helped scientists determine the planetary mass and measurements was only 99.2 percent sure that KOI-4427.01 might be a planet.
For all the other planets, the determination was 99.7 percent. We’re counting it as the ninth planet in our numerical roundup because we’re unwilling to give poor KOI-4427.01 the Pluto treatment over a paltry .5 percent differential.
All 12 of these planets have been confirmed as existing within the habitable zone of their star, and nine of them are known to be rocky.
But don’t start getting ready to welcome your new alien overlords just yet. The potential for habitability is just that, potential. And if life is ever found elsewhere in the universe, the chances are good that it will be microscopic.
Still, the discovery is exciting. After all, now science fiction writers have 12 more planets (including KOI-4427.01, don’t forget!) to fill with fictional alien civilizations.