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Sample Research Paper on Earth-Like Planets Discovered with the Kepler Telescope

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Since the first days of spaceflight, man has held a fascination with other worlds and the potential each has for new life. Sure, we can now confirm there was once water on Mars, but what about outside of our own solar-system? Space exploration has yielded millions of possibilities, and recent missions bring new ideas every day for exploring the Milky Way and other distant planets and galaxies. But will one of these new planets hold the key for Earth’s evolution? Will we find new life and new civilizations? Or will our dreams for a Star Trek life be cut short with discoveries of dust-filled planets, housing nothing more than rock and sand? The purpose of this sample research assignment on Earth-like planets discovered with the Kepler telescope is to hopefully shed light on these new worlds. Do you have a difficult research assignment of your own to complete? You may want to consider purchasing a sample research paper like this one. The professional writers at Ultius can help write a sample research assignment for you on any topic.

What is the Kepler Telescope Spacecraft, and how can it discover Earth-like planets?

The Ames Research Center describes Kepler as an unmanned, long-range space observatory probe launched March 7, 2009 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The probe was named after famed historical astronomer Johannes Kepler. The Kepler telescope was designed and developed to survey a small section of the Milky Way galaxy in hopes of discovering Earth-like planets capable of sustaining life. Designed to catalog more than a billion stars, Kepler's sole science instrument is a photometer. The photometer continually monitors 145,000 main sequence stars’ brightness in a fixed field of view (Ames).

To date, the original and follow-up Kepler observations found 1,013 confirmed exoplanets in about 440 star systems. The mission also discovered 3,199 unconfirmed candidate planets, although only four planets have been confirmed through Kepler's K2 mission. Astronomers believe there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-like planets (Ames Research Center). 

What are these Earth-like planets being discovered by the Kepler Telescope?

Kepler has made many popular and amazing discoveries, but the discovery of Earth-like planets overshadows all other observations. In a report from CNN in early 2016, Kepler found three Earth-like worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star 40 light-years away in another star system (Strickland, “Three Earth-like planets"). The star, named TRAPPIST-1, wasn’t the typical star scientists came across. It’s at the end of its life, making it half the temperature and a tenth the mass of Earth’s own sun (Strickland, “Three Earth-like planets"). TRAPPIST-1 is red star, just a little larger than Jupiter but too dim to be seen with the naked eye. On April 18, 2013 the discovery of three Super-Earths were announced. The real surprise was all three had the potential to host life (Johnson).

The following year, NASA made the announcement that astronomers had discovered the first Earth-size planet, Kepler-452b, orbiting a star in what they termed the “habitable zone”. The “habitable zone” represents “the distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface” (Johnson). NASA was quick to assure the public they hadn’t actually found life nor were they sure the planet was able to support life (Johnson). 

We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment, said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Jenkins led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s a substantial amount of time for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet. (Johnson)

The only facts Jenkins' team knew for sure were that these new planets had similar conditions to Earth. Thomas Barclay, a scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, said the new planet was an “Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth” (Johnson). 

Earth-Like Planets and their Distance from EarthSource: Ames Research Center
 
Some recently discovered planets and their distance (in light years) from Earth.
Planet Name Distance from Earth
Proxima Centauri-b 4.25 light-years
Gliese 667c 23.62 light-years
Kepler 442b 1291.6 light-years
Wolf 1061c 13.8 light-years
Kepler 1229b 769 light-years
Kapteyn-b 13 light-years
Kepler 62f 1200 light-years
Kepler 186f 561 light-years

Kepler-1647b

NASA’s Kepler observation station recently discovered another planet with Earth-like qualities. Located within the constellation Cygnus, scientists say the largest planet discovered rotates in a binary-star system (Morrow). 

But finding circumbinary planets is much harder than finding planets around single stars, said SDSU astronomer William Welsh, one of the paper’s co-authors. The transits are not regularly spaced in time and they can vary in duration and even depth. (Morrow)

While Kepler-1647b, the name given to the new planet by scientists, is too faint to see with the naked eye, a team led by astronomers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and San Diego State University (SDSU) in California, viewed the new planet using the famed Kepler Space Telescope (Morrow). 

‘It’s a bit curious that this biggest planet took so long to confirm, since it is easier to find big planets than small ones,’ said SDSU astronomer Jerome Orosz, a co-author on the study. But it is because its orbital period is so long. (Morrow)

Announced during an American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in San Diego, Kepler-1647b is 3,700 light-years away and approximately 4.4 billion years old, making it about the same age as Earth. The planet’s stars are similar to Earth’s sun, albeit one additional star. The planet’s mass and radius are nearly identical to Jupiter. Kepler-1647b is known as a circumbinary planet, or a planet orbiting two stars, comparable to Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home world in Star Wars (Morrow). 

Unlike Earth’s approximately 365-day journey around the Sun, Kepler-1647b takes 1,107 days, or three years, to orbit its home stars, making it the longest period of any confirmed transiting exoplanet. Even with all the Earth-like qualities, Kepler-1647b is a gas giant, and, like Jupiter, it is very unlikely to host life (Morrow). On the other hand, scientists say, if the planet has large, orbiting moons, they could have the potential for supporting life (Morrow). But NASA astronomers say this is unimportant. ‘Habitability aside, Kepler-1647b is important because it is the tip of the iceberg of a theoretically predicted population of large, long-period circumbinary planets,’ said Welsh” (Strickland, “NASA's Kepler"). NASA researchers stated in their report:

As important as a new discovery of a (circumbinary planet) is to indulge our basic human curiosity about distant worlds, its main significance is to expand our understanding of the inner workings of planetary systems in the dynamically rich environments of close binary stars. (Strickland, “NASA's Kepler")

Does life exist on these Earth-like planets discovered by the Kepler Telescope?

We've come a long way since the start of the space program.  From early missions like the forgotten flight of Gemini IV, to the modern Kepler missions, humans have searched the vast reaches of space for answers to many philosophical and scientific questions. The question of “Are we alone in the universe?” at one time seemed impossible to answer for sure. Until very recently, Mars was the top candidate for a habitable planet other than Earth due to it's proximity. We now know there are several million other candidates in the universe, many closer to us that originally anticipated. A study from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas suggestsEuropa, a moon of the planet Jupiter, as a topic of debate in astronomical circles. If life does exist here, life on this moon isn’t of the typical species we expect. Liquid water and sources of energy are the essential prerequisites for life, and Europa might very well have them. Strong tidal heat could keep the inside of Europa warm enough to have liquid water beneath a thick layer of ice.

Titan, the largest of the moons of Saturn, is another potential for life (University of Nevada, Las Vegas). This moon has an atmosphere largely made up of nitrogen, with less than one percent of methane, making the surface pressure of Titan's atmosphere thicker than that of Earth. Titan’s rich assortment of organic molecules are products of the ammonia and methane chemistry found in the moon. These findings suggest primitive life forms might be present, but the low temperatures make it unlikely (University of Nevada, Las Vegas).

Works Cited

Ames Research Center. NASA. “FAQ:  Frequently Asked Questions from the Public.” Kepler. N.d. Web. 21 July 2016. http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/faq/

Howell, Elizabeth. “The 6 Most Earth-like Alien Planets.” Space.com. 6 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 July 2016. https://www.space.com/30172-six-most-earth-like-alien-planets.html

Johnson, Michele. “NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth.” NASA. 5 April 2015. Web. 21 July 2016. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-kepler-mission-discovers-bigger-older-cousin-to-earth 

Morrow, Ashley, ed. “New Planet Is Largest Discovered That Orbits Two Suns.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 13 June 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/new-planet-is-largest-discovered-that-orbits-two-suns

Strickland, Ashley. (1) “NASA's Kepler discovers 'Tatooine' planet orbiting two suns.” CNN. 15 June 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/14/health/nasa-kepler-tatooine-planet-two-suns/

Strickland, Ashley.(2) “Three Earth-like planets discovered orbiting dwarf star.” CNN. 2 May 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/02/health/three-habitable-planets-earth-dwarf-star/

University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Could life exist on other planets?” Astronomy Magazine. 1 Dec. 2015. Web. 25 July 2016. http://www.astronomy.com/news/2015/12/could-life-exist-on-other-planets

Wall, Mike. “NASA Finds 1,284 Alien Planets, Biggest Haul Yet, with Kepler Space Telescope.” Space.com. 10 May 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. https://www.space.com/32850-nasa-kepler-telescope-finds-1284-alien-planets.html

 
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