Humanity hasn’t done a ton of good in our short stint on Earth, though we’ve definitely succeeded at turning this planet into a trash pit of despair. Today, researchers from NASA’s Kepler space telescope team announced we might get to bring our garbage party to another planet — perhaps a bunch of them.
The Kepler team has apparently identified 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are roughly Earth-size and within their star’s habitable zone, the region that could support liquid water and possibly life. This latest update to the Kepler catalogue brings the total number of planet candidates identified by the space-based telescope to 4034.
One research group took advantage of the Kepler data to make precise measurements of thousands of planets, revealing two distinct groups of small planets. The team found a clean division in the sizes of rocky, Earth-size planets and gaseous planets smaller than Neptune. Few planets were found between those groupings. So while humanity can’t take over every planet, there are definitely quite a few that are, in theory, suitable for us to destroy.
Kepler detects planets via the transit method, meaning it observes the dips in a star’s brightness when a planet passes in front of it. The next generation of space-based telescopes such as the James Webb Telescope — which is set to launch in October 2018 — will allow astronomers to further analyse the worlds Kepler has found.
“The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near Earth-analogs — planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth,” Mario Perez, Kepler program scientist in the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth.”
Kepler’s been a good sport for nearly a decade. The telescope’s primary mission began in 2009, when it debuted as NASA’s first planet-hunting spacecraft. In 2013, however, two of its reaction wheels suddenly broke. Some clever scientists repurposed the telescope as an exoplanet-hunter in a new mission called K2, and it’s been hard at work ever since. It will undoubtedly help humanity find a new world to contaminate someday.