In Pictures: NASA - Kepler's most excellent space discoveries

NASA’s Kepler space telescope continues to amaze

  • Scientists got together recently to go over the remarkable data that continues to be found from NASA’s planet hunter, the Kepler Space Telescope. While the telescope is no longer functioning (see slides), the massive amount of data it fed to scientists will take years to go through. Included in the most recent findings: the discovery of 833 new candidate planets, 10 which are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's habitable zone. Take a look at some of Kepler’s other major space discoveries.

  • From the first three years of Kepler data, more than 3,500 potential worlds have emerged. Since the last update in January, the number of planet candidates increased by 29% and now totals 3,538. The largest increase -- 78% -- was found in the Earth-sized category, NASA says.

  • Illustration with pointers to main features of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope whose main job was to search for Earth-like planets.

  • Diagram of NASA's Kepler space telescope highlighting key parts of its positioning system. Two of Kepler's four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, failed and NASA reported in August that it would not try to recover the spacecraft.

  • Astronomers recently discovered the first Earth-sized planet outside the solar system that has a rocky composition like that of Earth. Kepler-78b whizzes around its host star every 8.5 hours, making it a blazing inferno and not suitable for life as we know it.

  • Artist’s representation of the “habitable zone,” the range of orbits where liquid water is permitted on the surface of a planet and the place Kepler has found major new worlds.

  • Relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets discovered as of April 2013 in this artist's rendition provided by NASA. (L to R) Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler 62f and Earth. Scientists using NASA's Kepler space telescope have found the best candidates yet for habitable worlds beyond the solar system.

  • An X-ray and infrared composite image, released in March 2013, illustrates the remnant of Kepler's supernova, the explosion that was discovered by Johannes Kepler, the telescope’s namesake, in 1604. The red, green and blue colors show low, intermediate and high energy X-rays observed with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

  • Details of three planets discovered by NASA's Kepler telescope, including the smallest planet yet found around a star similar to our sun.

  • An artist's conception of the tiny planet Kepler-37b, which is slightly larger than Earth's moon and orbits its host star every 13 days, in this image released by NASA, February 2013. It likely has a surface temperature of in excess of 400C (700F). Astronomers don't think the tiny planet has an atmosphere or could support life as we know it, but the moon-size world is almost certainly rocky in composition, NASA says.

  • NASA illustration compares the planets in the Kepler-37 system to the moon and planets in the solar system. NASA's Kepler mission has discovered a planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star like our sun, approximately 210 light-years away in the constellation Lyra. A "year" on these planets is very short. Kepler-37b orbits its host star every 13 days at less than one-third the distance Mercury is to the sun. The other two planets, Kepler-37c and Kepler-37d, orbit their star every 21 and 40 days.

  • In a dazzling and previously undetected display of orbital dynamics, two planets beyond the solar system have been found circling a pair of stars, scientists using NASA's Kepler.

  • Artist's concept is shown illustrating Kepler-47, the first transiting circumbinary system -- multiple planets orbiting two suns, 4,900 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Cygnus.

  • An artist's rendering shows a planet called Kepler-20e in this handout released December 2011. NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system, a milestone in the search for planets like the Earth, the space agency said.

  • A diagram comparing our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first "habitable zone" planet discovered by Kepler. Kepler-22b, the most Earth-like planet ever discovered is circling a star 600 light years away, a key finding in an ongoing quest to learn if life exists beyond Earth, NASA said.

  • NASA artist's concept of the circumbinary planet Kepler-16b - the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars. The cold planet, with its gaseous surface, is not thought to be habitable. The largest of the two stars, a K dwarf, is about 69% the mass of our sun, and the smallest, a red dwarf, is about 20%the sun's mass, NASA said. These star pairs are called eclipsing binaries.

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