An important milestone has been reached by NASA's CU/LASP managed Kepler mission, following the discovery of two Earth-size planets called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f In the space crafts search for Earth-like planets. The Kepler Mission is specifically designed to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone. The mission was launched in March 2009.
The two planets are the first Earth-size planets to be discovered orbiting a sun-like star called Kepler-20, outside our solar system. Kepler-20 is about 1,000 light-years away from the Earth in the constellation Lyra.
The new planets - Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f (named for their closest star) are thought to be rocky and are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface.
Kepler-20e measures 0.87 times the radius of Earth, has a surface temperature of more than 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit and orbits its parent star every 6.1 days. Kepler-20f is slightly larger than our own Earth, measuring 1.03 times its radius. The planet has a surface temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit and orbits its parent star every 19.6 days. As in our own solar system, the srt orbital periods obviously mean very hot, inhospitable worlds.
Kepler is one of several missions currently operated at the Labratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in the University of Colorado/Boulder's Research park on the East Campus in Boulder CO. CU/Boulder Students take training to be certified operators with oversight from NASA Mission Control professionals.
In January of 2011, the Kepler team announced the discovery of Kepler-10b -- the first rocky planet discovered outside our solar system. In February, the team enjoyed a successful press conference, with the announcement of 1,235 planet candidates, including 68 earth-size planet candidates, and a number of planet candidates in the habitable zone. In September, 2011 they confirmed the existence of the first circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b.
The Kepler spacecraft experienced a processor reset on Dec. 7, 2011 . Flight software rebooted and commanded a configuration similar to safe mode, but with the photometer on, to help speed recovery. The project team detected the event on Dec. 8, 2011 during a regularly scheduled semi-weekly contact. The team quickly recovered the spacecraft, and it returned to science operations Friday. From detection to correction of the anomaly was only 28 hours .
Two weeks ago, those discoveries were featured in a Kepler Science Conference at NASA Ames Research Center. At the event Kepler's science team announced the discovery of Kepler-22b, Kepler's first confirmed planet in the habitable zone. Kepler-22b, is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. And studies show us that the planet has a surface temperature around 72 degrees and orbits its star in 290 days. Scientists do not yet know if it has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.
The team also announced 1,094 new planet candidates. Since the last catalog was released in February2011, the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler has increased by 89 percent and now totals 2,326. To-date the team has confirmed 28 planets outside our solar system.