At the start, Kepler was programmed for surveying a particular patch of the sky lying in the Northern  Hemisphere but when it failed to focus on the target, a new mission named K2 was set in hopes of observing several other independent target fields in the ecliptic plane. The ecliptic plane is a name given to the apparent path of sun’s motion on the celestial sphere when seen from planet Earth.

Recently, NASA’s second Kepler mission called K2 enabled the research team to validate around 104 more exoplanets. Conclusions were published online in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series after several observations were made using, telescopes like the W.M Keck Observatory (on Mauna Kea), the Automated Planet Finder (of the University of California Observatories) and the Large Binocular Telescope (operated by the University of Arizona). Gemini telescopes on Mauna Kea were also used. It is expected that over the next four years of this mission, 500 to 1000 more exoplanets can be discovered.

Initially, there were 197 objects spotted in the space but out of those, only 104 classified as confirmed exoplanets. 30 of them were labeled as false positives while 63 candidates require more research before coming to a final conclusion. A few of them, four to be exact show several similarities to Earth. However they all are about 20 to 50% larger than Earth. These planets are 181 light years away from Earth and orbit around a single dwarf star named K2-72 which is a lot less bright and about half the size, when compared to the Sun. Their orbital periods range from 5.5 days to 24 days. Despite of a few differences between these newly discovered planets and Earth, Ian Crossfield, a NASA Sagan Fellow at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory said that there could still be conditions conductive to life on these exoplanets.

Kepler lately received two more years of funding. It is expected that Kepler will continue making new discoveries till the end of 2019, before it runs out of fuel. The recent discovery can help in setting up several targets for NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, a project scheduled to be released

somewhere in October 2018.