Earth-Size Planets Among Final Tally of NASA’s Kepler Telescope

The catalog — the eighth in the endeavor — was released at a meeting of exoplanet astronomers here at the Ames Research Center that represents a last hurrah for the survey mission, which will end on Sept. 30. The space telescope itself is doing fine, and it has embarked on a new program of short-term searches called K2.

Among other things, Dr. Batalha said, for the first time there is at least one planet, known as KOI 7711 (for Kepler Object of Interest), that almost matches the Earth, at only 30 percent wider and with an orbit of almost exactly one year.

In all, there are 219 new planet candidates in the catalog. Ten of them, moreover, are in the habitable zones of their stars, the so-called Goldilocks realm, where the heat from their stars is neither too cold nor too hot for liquid water.

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Researchers have discovered a gap in the distribution of planet sizes, indicating that most planets discovered by Kepler so far fall into two distinct size classes: the rocky Earths and super-Earths (similar to Kepler-452b), and the mini-Neptunes (similar to Kepler-22b).

Credit
NASA/Ames, via Caltech, via University of Hawaii (B. J. Fulton

They are fascinating, but Kepler’s mission is not to pinpoint the next tourist destination — it is to find out on average how far away such places are. Or, as Dr. Batalha said, “We’re not stamp collecting, we’re doing statistics.”

Another result reported on Monday deepened a mystery about how nature goes about making planets. Over the years, Kepler has discovered that nature likes to make small planets, but it makes them in two ways: rocky, like Earth, and gaseous, like Neptune.

A new study, led by Benjamin Fulton of the California Institute of Technology, of 1,305 stars and 2,025 planets that orbit them has found a curious gap in the planet population that seems to mark the boundary…

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