I tweaked my star finder program so it could see where in the Sky KEPLER-11 is located. This is the planet that is so much like Earth that it might be able to support life.
This is very exciting that the Kepler Space Telescope can actually find earth type planets – not just one but many.
The brighter star in the exact center of the field is not Kepler 11, but the dimmer star immediately to the right is probably the one. It looks like a pimple on the bigger star.
So far Kepler has found dozens of planets. It uses the transit method to find planets. This means that when a planet passes it front of a star, the light from the star dims, slightly. Kepler can detect that dimming. In order for this to work the ecliptic, or plane of the planets, must be in line with earth. Most planets don’t line up with earth, and even though they are there, we can’t detect them using the transit method.
I did some simple math and found that for an earth-like planet and a sun-like star, we would miss 99.7% of all planets because they would not be aligned well enough to see.
In other words for each planet that Kepler finds, it misses at least 338 planets. Kepler found something like 54 new planets in the last news release. That means it probably missed more than 18,000 planets. You can probably triple that because many planets will just catch the edge of the sun as they orbit, but would not make enough of a change in the brightness of a star to be detected. I did the calculation for a planet at 93 million miles from the star. Planets like Mars would have half the probability of being detected because they are further away and need to be closer to the ecliptic, and the shadow from their passing would be smaller due to the distance.
Catching a few planets is huge news, just because the math shows that there must be many many more that the Kepler Space Telescope can’t detect.