NASA’s Kepler mission will reveal new planets today

20 Dec 2011

NASA will later today unveil new planets discovered by its planet-hunting spacecraft Kepler, which has so far found 2,326 potential and 28 definite planets.

Kepler has been orbiting Earth since March 2009.

In recent weeks, Kepler revealed the existence of an Earth-like planet, Kepler-22b, potentially capable of sustaining human life. Kepler 22-b is 2.4 times the size of Earth. NASA says this makes it the smallest planet yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star like our sun.

Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of an orbiting planet.

Although additional observations will be needed to reach that milestone, Kepler is detecting planets and possible candidates with a wide range of sizes and orbital distances to help scientists better understand our place in the galaxy.

Kepler-22b is 600 light years away from Earth. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our planet. NASA says Kepler-22b’s host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.

NASA will host a news teleconference at 1pm EST (6pm GMT) announcing new discoveries by the Kepler mission. Click here to listen in.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years