The mission of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope research program sounds simple: to explore the Milky Way galaxy and find other habitable planets. In some ways, it's the real version of the U.S.S. Enterprise's mission — to find new worlds and seek out new life, or at least a place we can move once we've outgrown the blue planet.
Jack Lissauer, the lead researcher on the Kepler project, published findings last month that indicate a new-to-us planetary system that has two planets sharing the same orbit. The system, dubbed Kepler Object of Interest (KOI)-730 has four possible planets. Two of the four planet candidates (they are not yet certified planets), orbit the parent star (the anchoring object in the system) at the same orbital distance, with a complete orbit time of 9.8 days. That's pretty fast, considering Earth orbits the sun at a rate of 365 days.
The co-orbital theory was the original theory published in March 2011. Further research indicates that one of the objects may actually take twice as long to orbit the central star as originally thought. Lissauer explains that additional data interpretation of the light curve images taken by Kepler led the team to change theories. Either way, this new system is multi-resonant and likely to hold researchers' attention for a long time to come. Even with the theory change, it's not the last we've heard about KOI-730.
The Kepler Space Telescope was launched via the Delta II rocket on March 6, 2009. (Launch photo credit: NASA/Regina Mitchell-Ryall, Tom Farrar March 6, 2009.) The Kepler Space Telescope was designed for a 3.5 to 6 year mission, though it will likely remain in an Earth-trailing, heliocentric orbit for much longer. At the 61 year mark in 2070, Kepler will come very near Earth. The current plan is that the next generation of NASA scientists will then retrieve Kepler, where it can retire to the National Air and Space Museum, or, they may choose to leave it in orbit.
Learn more about the mission's other findings in the TechRepublic gallery Images from the Kepler, Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer space telescopes.
Kepler's Supernova (Image credit: NASA)
More resources about Kepler
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