We reported in January that Kepler launched (in March of 2009) and had found five new exoplanets (sometime between May and July), which are incapable of supporting life because of their extremely high temperatures. Big whoop, right: who cares about a planet with extremely low weight, if stepping foot on it would melt your treads, your legs, and probably the vessel you arrived in? Here’s why the San Francisco Chronicle report is so excited: NASA has announced that the satellite has detected as many as 706 possible planets.
Currently, researchers at Kepler Mission Control at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA are working around the clock pouring through the data, trying to make the determination if the information they received does in fact point to planets, or if they’re false positives. The way they make such determinations is by watching a star and measuring to see if there is a reduction in light coming from that burning ball of gas: those reductions mean something passed between the star and the telescope lens on the satellite, which could be a planet. It could also be a secondary star, known as an eclipsing binary, if those stars observed happen to be part of a twin-star system. So don’t break out that champagne yet.
Of the 700+ stars tallied as possibly having planets, 400 are being held back by the research teams, who want to delve into the data in more detail. 306 of the findings will be published in the upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal, so that the international community can get their sticky fingers on our findings: USA! USA!…that just made me sad, considering that Japan was the first to collect samples off of an asteroid, so let’s throw the Nihonjin a bone and say: Nihon-koku! Nihon-koku!