Kepler's planet candidates in transit with their parent stars.  (Image Credit: Jason Rowe/Kepler Science Team)

We are all aware of the Hubble Space Telescope and all the wonders it has uncovered, and we anxiously await the splendors that will be uncovered by the James Webb Space Telescope. Most of us, however, aren’t fully aware of the one-of-a-kind space telescope that, as you read this, is making tremendous contributions to humankind and may hold the key to the future of our species.

I am talking about the Kepler Spacecraft also known as the Kepler Space Telescope.

Launched on March 7, 2009, and named after famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler, its sole mission is to find Earth-like exoplanets, and it has been a staggering success. The Kepler spacecraft has detected 1,743 confirmed planets (as of August 2014). It uncovered more than 450 multi-planet systems, and there are additional 4,229 planet candidates awaiting confirmation.

One of the ways that Kepler identifies a planet is by seeing the gravitational pull that a planet exerts on its host star. As the planet orbits its host star, the star wobbles. It is difficult to directly see the wobble of the star, so scientists use the Doppler shift of the star’s light. As the star wobbles towards us, the light waves emitted get compressed; as the star wobbles away from Earth, the light waves get stretched out. Scientists use this method in order to determine what stars host planets.

The below video is a catalog that shows the relative sizes of the orbits and planets in the multi-transiting planetary systems that were discovered by Kepler up to Nov. 2013. The terrestrial planets of the Solar System are shown in gray.

So in the distant future (after all of us are long gone and our future generations have cracked the codes of space travel) just think that maybe, just maybe, Kepler might have been the one responsible of finding our new home.

Two planets, known as Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, circle the same star that is located around 1,200 light-years distant. For all intents and purposes, they are right next to each other (closer than Mars is to Earth). The star, dubbed Kepler-62, a K2 dwarf, is similar to our sun in many ways—though it is about 1/3rd smaller, about 2 billion years older and only 1/5th as bright, which means any potentially habitable planet would have to be orbiting pretty close to the star to receive all of the energy that it would need for life to thrive. Kepler-62e fits that bill, as it is the innermost planet in its planetary system. If it has an Earth-like atmosphere, the climate may be similar to that of a tropical island– with surface temperatures reaching about 86 degrees Fahrenheit [or 30 degrees Celsius).

You can read more about some of the Kepler Systems here:

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