With the addition of 715 planets discovered recently by use of the Kepler telescope, the total count of known planets beyond the solar system has nearly doubled, reaching the approximate tally of 1,700. What’s more is that at least four of these new planets are more than twice the size of Earth and may have liquid surface water, which is considered essential to maintaining life. NASA announced these jaw-dropping discoveries, among others, at a Wednesday news conference.
The discoveries were made with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope before it was sidelined by a pointing system problem last year. The telescope, launched in 2009, spent four productive years staring at 160,000 target stars for signs of planets passing by, relative to the telescope’s line of sight….
The population boom is due to a new verification technique that analyses potential planets in batches rather than one at a time. The method was developed after scientists realised that most planets, like those in the solar system, have sibling worlds orbiting a common parent star.
The newly found planets reinforce evidence that small planets, two to three times the size of Earth, are common throughout the galaxy.
“Literally, wherever (Kepler) can see them, it finds them,” said astronomer Sara Seager, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “That’s why we have confidence that there will be planets like Earth in other places.”