A new set of Kepler data has just been released, with 461 planet candidates announced! This is timely, following on from Dr Niall Smith’s talk last Friday about the search for exo-planets. Unfortunately, Dr Smith will have to update his talk!
This data is from the first two years of operation (May 2009 to March 2011). At least three transits are needed to spot a potential planet, so only shorter period possibles have been spotted so far. Kepler was first planned to operate for three years, but now should keep running to 2016.
The new planet candidates are a mixed bunch, with plenty of Neptune-sized planets. There are more smaller planets though, some possibly as small as the twice the size of the Earth! Of those, four seem to be at the right distance from their star to be in the “habitable zone.” This is the distance from a star where the planet is not too hot, nor too cold. At this “Goldilocks” distance, liquid water may well exist.
A lot more study will still need to be done, but the chances of another Earth like planet out there are looking good!