During the Kepler Science Conference held at the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), in Moffett Field, California, experts in charge of the mission said that the second batch of data the telescope sent back is unlikely to be its last. As such, we can expect it to discover even more exoplanets.
On December 5, the mission's science team announced the discovery of 1,094 new worlds, of which more than 99 percent will likely be confirmed by follow-up studies. These planets add to the 1,235 candidates Kepler revealed in February.
Therefore, in just half its mission time, the spacecraft has discovered 2,326 potential worlds. Experts announced recently that the percentage of planets that are false-positive results is likely to be very small. Some advance a 1 percent error rate, while for others the rate is as small as 0.1 percent.
According to NASA researchers, the detector will most likely discover at least an additional exoplanetary dataset by November 2012, when its primary, 3.5-year mission concludes. At the same time, it's entirely possible that its life span will be extended.
The Kepler deputy science team leader, Natalie Batalha, said at the conference that “we're going to have at least one more batch that's going to be a marked increase.” The $600 million spacecraft was launched to look for second Earth in March 2009.
In addition to the candidates it found, its detectors also helped confirm a number of proposed worlds, raising the count of officially-recognized and verified extrasolar planets to little under 710. After its candidates are verified, the count may very well exceed 3,000.
The datasets presented in February and December represent Kepler's science product for May 2009 to September 2010, the result of the first 16 months of its mission. About 11 months of observations remain, more than enough time to discover additional worlds.
At the same time, an increase in detection success rates could come about due to the constant improvements that investigators are bringing to the telescope's analysis software. These changes allow the observatory to become increasingly effective at discovering planets.
Furthermore, Kepler needs to see a world complete 3 rotations around its parent star before it can classify it as a candidate. Therefore, there could be thousands of planets that the telescope saw only once or twice.
Planets located far away from their stars would take decades to complete an orbit; so many worlds may remain undetected even by Kepler. However, NASA did announce that the instrument was developed specifically to search for Earth-like worlds inside their parent stars' habitable zones, Space