Today at 11am EDT (4pm BST), NASA is going to be making an announcement about new discoveries from its Kepler mission.
NASA is keeping the news under wraps for now, so we don’t know what it’s about just yet. Previous announcements like this have concerned Earth-like worlds and a treasure trove of discoveries.
This time around, it looks like it might be about the Kepler mission in general, rather than a specific discovery. In a short summary, NASA said they would reveal “the latest planet candidate results from the agency's exoplanet-hunting Kepler mission.”
You’ll be able to watch the announcement live here, and we’ve also embedded the stream below.
The Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009, and since then it has found thousands of worlds beyond our Solar System. In 2014, scientists were forced to repurpose the mission after a second of the spacecraft’s four reaction wheels (used to orientate the telescope) broke.
This new mission, called K2, has continued to find plenty of exoplanets around other stars. Kepler finds planets by noting the dip caused as they pass in front of their star relative to us. This is known as the transit method.
But for a planet to be confirmed, three transits must be observed. This has made it difficult to find Earth-like worlds with orbits similar to ours, as observations must take place over several years. Nonetheless, we are getting better and better at finding such worlds.
“NASA’s Kepler space telescope became the first agency mission capable of finding Earth-sized planets in or near the habitable zone – the range of distances from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet,” said NASA.
“In the data collected during the four years of its principal mission, Kepler has detected thousands of planets and planet candidates, varying widely in size and orbital distances, helping us better understand our place in the universe.”
NASA noted Kepler was using its most “sophisticated analyses” for planets yet, creating the “most complete and reliable accounting of distant worlds to date”. This survey is apparently opening up new ways to study exoplanets.
Exactly what this latest announcement will be isn’t clear yet, so we’ll have to tune in later to find out. Aside from watching the stream above, you can also ask questions during the briefing on Twitter using #AskKepler.
Although a word of caution, as always, that NASA probably won’t be announcing the discovery of life, which people often assume from these announcements. It’ll be cool nonetheless though, don’t you worry.