NASA Kepler mission confirms over 700 new exoplanets

Despite the suspension of observations with the Kepler planet-finder telescope, lots of planets continue to be found in the massive amount of data that was collected while it was working.

NASA’s Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds

NASA’s Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system.

Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. This discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than previously identified exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system.

The artist concept depicts multiple-transiting planet systems, which are
stars with more than one planet. The planets eclipse or transit their host
star from the vantage point of the observer. This angle is called edge-on.
Image Credit:  NASA

“The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds.”

Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system roughly two decades ago, verification has been a laborious planet-by-planet process. Now, scientists have a statistical technique that can be applied to many planets at once when they are found in systems that harbor more than one planet around the same star.

knownexoplanetsThe histogram shows the number of planets by size for all known exoplanets.
The blue bars on the histogram represents all the exoplanets known, by size,
before the Kepler Planet Bonanza announcement on Feb. 26, 2014. The gold
bars on the histogram represent Kepler’s newly-verified planets.
Image Credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel

To verify this bounty of planets, a research team co-led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., analyzed stars with more than one potential planet, all of which were detected in the first two years of Kepler’s observations — May 2009 to March 2011.

The research team used a technique called verification by multiplicity, which relies in part on the logic of probability. Kepler observes 150,000 stars, and has found a few thousand of those to have planet candidates. If the candidates were randomly distributed among Kepler’s stars, only a handful would have more than one planet candidate. However, Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates. Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.

This method can be likened to the behavior we know of lions and lionesses. In our imaginary savannah, the lions are the Kepler stars and the lionesses are the planet candidates. The lionesses would sometimes be observed grouped together whereas lions tend to roam on their own. If you see two lions it could be a lion and a lioness or it could be two lions. But if more than two large felines are gathered, then it is very likely to be a lion and his pride. Thus, through multiplicity the lioness can be reliably identified in much the same way multiple planet candidates can be found around the same star.

“Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates –but they were only candidate worlds,” said Lissauer. “We’ve now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds.”

These multiple-planet systems are fertile grounds for studying individual planets and the configuration of planetary neighborhoods. This provides clues to planet formation.

Four of these new planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their sun’s habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.

One of these new habitable zone planets, called Kepler-296f, orbits a star half the size and 5 percent as bright as our sun. Kepler-296f is twice the size of Earth, but scientists do not know whether the planet is a gaseous world, with a thick hydrogen-helium envelope, or it is a water world surrounded by a deep ocean.

“From this study we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular — resembling pancakes — not your classical view of an atom,” said Jason Rowe, research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. “The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home.”

exoplanetdiscoverieshistogramThe histogram shows the number of planet discoveries by year for roughly the
past two decades of the exoplanet search. The blue bar shows previous planet
discoveries, the red bar shows previous Kepler planet discoveries, the gold
bar displays the 715 new planets verified by multiplicity.
Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI/J Rowe

This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to nearly 1,700. As we continue to reach toward the stars, each discovery brings us one step closer to a more accurate understanding of our place in the galaxy.

Launched in March 2009, Kepler is the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets. Discoveries include more than 3,600 planet candidates, of which 961 have been verified as bona-fide worlds.

The findings papers will be published March 10 in The Astrophysical Journal and are available for download at:

Ames is responsible for the Kepler mission concept, ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

For more information about the Kepler space telescope, visit:

Asteroid passing earth tracked by radar

The fairly sizable asteroid 2006 DP14, classified as a PHA or Potentially Hazardous Asteroid,  passed by earth last week: Comets & Neo: Close Approach of Asteroid 2006 DP14 – Remanzacco Observatory

Here is a NASA JPL video showing the radar view of the object: Radar Images of near-Earth Asteroid 2006 DP14  – NASA


Radar data of asteroid 2006 DP14 were obtained on Feb. 11, 2014, using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif. While this asteroid would appear as no more than a point of light to optical telescopes, using radar we’re able to discern the physical characteristics of the asteroid and we’re able to measure its exact distance from Earth. In order to point the enormous 70-meter dish antenna in the precise direction of the asteroid, numerous amateur astronomers assisted in the days leading up to Feb. 11 by supplying observational data to help pinpoint the location. The asteroid is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) long, 660 feet (200 meters) wide. 

Related feature –…

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

Books: “The Case for Space Solar Power” + “Space Elevators: An Assessment”

Former NASA manager and long time proponent of space based solar power, John C. Mankins has published a new book on the topic: The Case for Space Solar Power (available in both hardback and kindle versions).

The National Space Society, not suprisingly, likes it: New Book: The Case for Space Solar Power – NSS Blog

A strong case for harnessing space solar power is presented in this ground-breaking new book. Author John C. Mankins, one of the foremost experts in the field, presents his latest research in The Case for Space Solar Power.

The Case for Space Solar Power recounts the history of the space solar power concept and summarizes the many different ways in which it might be accomplished.

Specifically, the book describes in detail a highly promising concept — SPS-ALPHA (Solar Power Satellite by means of Arbitrarily Large Phased Array) — and presents a business case comprising applications in space and markets on Earth. It is possible to begin now with technologies that are already at hand , while developing the more advanced technologies that will be needed to deliver power economically to markets on Earth.

The Case for Space Solar Power lays out a path forward that is both achievable and affordable. Within a dozen years, the first multi-megawatt solar pilot plant could be in operation.


The International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) has examined another ambitious space technology and found it to be feasible and promising: Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way ForwardSee also

Name a Mars Crater at Uwingu

Uwingu is a private company set up by a group of leading astronomers, planetary scientists, former space program managers, writers and educators (all of whom currently work at Uwingu as volunteers) to raise money for space research. They aim to provide innovative public involvement products that bring a sense of participation and fun to space activities.

Following last year’s successful test with the naming of exoplanets, today Uwingu announces the Mars Crater Naming campaign in which you can offer a name for one of the 500,000 craters found so far on the Red Planet, most all of which have no names. Uwingu has created a dynamic, on line map that will continually update with the latest names. The goal is to raise $10M for space science projects from the fees for posting a name.

See Uwingu’s Mars Crater Naming FAQ regarding the usual questions about the “official” status of such names. No group can claim that only one name and only their selected name can apply to each and every feature in the solar system. Everyone has a right to suggest a name for a feature on Mars and future Mars residents can decide for themselves whether they will use that name or the name they choose themselves or a technical name assigned to it by a particular subset of astronomers.

Here is the official announcement from Uwingu:

Crowdsourced Mars Crater Naming Project Launched –
500,000 Craters to be Named on New Mars Map

Feb. 26, 2014 – BOULDER, Colo. — For years, space mission rover teams have taken it upon themselves to name landmarks on Mars.


Beginning today, the public can get involved in Mars exploration much the same way. Through Uwingu’s newly redesigned web site at, now anyone can help to create the Uwingu’s new Mars map, with names for all the approximately 500,000 unnamed, scientifically catalogued craters on Mars.

In almost 50 years of Mars exploration by spacecraft, only about 15,000 features have been named on Mars by scientists and others around the world. Yet over 500,000 Martian craters catalogued from NASA and European space mission imagery remain unnamed. Uwingu is setting a goal of naming all these unnamed Martian craters and completing its new Mars map before 2015—the 50th anniversary year of humankind’s first missions to Mars.

The completed project aims to generate over $10M in funds for space research and education—larger than any other private space grant program in history.

Uwingu’s Mars map grandfathers in all the already named craters on Mars, but opens the remainder up for naming by people around the globe. Unnamed craters in the Mars database range from under a kilometer across to over 350 kilometers (over 200 miles) across. Craters can be named for almost anything or anyone, including friends, family, co-workers, heroes, pets, places on Earth or in space, sports teams, musical artists.

Says Uwingu’s advisor and Mars scientist Dr. Teresa Segura, “This project is truly groundbreaking for public participation in the exploration of Mars. Only imagination limits your choices, Aad I love that it supports funding for space research and education!”

Prices for naming craters vary, depending on the size of the crater, and begin at $5 dollars.

Uwingu makes a shareable Web link and a naming certificate available to each crater namer for each newly named crater.

“Every crater named on this public Mars map contributes to the Uwingu fund for space research and education”, added Uwingu founder and planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern, “So name a crater on Mars—and make an impact of your own!”


About Uwingu:

Uwingu (which means “sky” in Swahili, and is pronounced “oo-wing-oo”) was formed by a team of leading astronomers, planetary scientists, former space program executives, and educators. The company includes space historian and author Andrew Chaikin, space educator Dr. Emily CoBabe-Ammann, author and former museum science director Dr. David Grinspoon, planet hunter Dr. Geoff Marcy, planetary scientist and aerospace executive Dr. Teresa Segura, planetary scientist and former NASA science director Dr. Alan Stern, planetary scientist and CEO of the Planetary Science Institute, Dr. Mark Sykes, former Executive Director of the Planetary Society Dr. Louis Friedman, and space artists Jon Lomberg and Dan Durda. In 2012, Uwingu successfully concluded one of the 25 largest Indiegogo crowd-funding campaigns ever to launch an ongoing series of public engagement projects. Visit Uwingu’s web site at to learn more and join in the public naming of planets around other stars.