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Exoplanet Hunter Close to Finding Earth-like planets

Wired, June 15th, by Alexis Madrigal

The planet-hunting space telescope, Kepler, released its first big batch of data today.

That should be exciting, but the team held back the good stuff until February 2011, wanting to analyze and follow up on the early observations themselves. Kepler is trying to find Earth-like planets that exist at just the right distance from their home stars to retain water in liquid form.

Of the 156,000 target stars in the telescope’s field of vision, the 43 days of observations found 706 possible extrasolar planets from Earth size up to a bit bigger than Jupiter. Today, the NASA Ames Research Center crew, led by William Borucki, released data on the 306 targets they’re least excited about. Their top 400 candidates to investigate as possible Earth twins will not be announced for eight more months.

“Many of the candidates are likely to be false positives and the brighter stars, and those with the small-size candidates … are among the 400 withheld targets and are thus not among those considered here, biasing the results toward the dimmer stars and larger candidates,” Borucki wrote in an article posted to arXiv.org.

The data release plan was approved earlier this year by a special NASA advisory board, but has recently touched off controversy over its fairness and wisdom.

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