With this release of data, Kepler’s primary mission is now effectively over. It is now conducting a second mission, called K2, that involves looking at a region of the sky for shorter periods of time.
While this mission will struggle to find Earth-like worlds (three transits are needed to confirm a planet, so a world with an orbit like ours must be observed for three years), it could help us further understand what sort of planets are in the cosmos.
“You don’t necessarily need to do the transit method to find them [Earth-like worlds],” Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist at the SETI Institute in California, told IFLScience during the press briefing. “One of the pathways is finding a planet with a transit survey, whether that’s Kepler [or something else], following up on the ground, and then doing a targeted observation.”
While the Kepler mission is continuing for now, it will be joined soon by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). This will look for planets in orbits of between 27 days and a year, and is planned to launch by June 2018.
With this final batch of data, scientists now hope to hone in on one day possibly finding a world exactly like our own. While we don’t yet know for sure, there looks to be quite a few candidates that deserve further study.
“This carefully-measured catalog is the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy’s most compelling questions – how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?” Thompson added in the briefing.