It has been announced that NASA’s planet hunter, the Kepler telescope, has identified a whopping 715 new planets in The Milky Way. Many of these planets are similar to Earth in size, which is good news in the search for more Earth-like planets within our galaxy. To give you a sense of what an epic score this is for NASA, before these 715 planets were identified, they had only confirmed about 1,000 planets in total.
Jack Lissauer of NASA’s Ames Research Center said, “We’ve been able to open the bottleneck to access the mother lode and deliver to you more than 20 times as many planets as has ever been found and announced at once.” These 715 planets were spotted by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which was launched in 2009 specifically to look for Earth-like planets. “Kepler has really been a game-changer for our understanding of the incredible diversity of planets and planetary systems in our galaxy,” said Douglas Hudgins, a member of NASA’s astrophysics division.
The Kepler telescope. (NASA)
Four of these planets are found in the “habitable zone“, meaning they are the proper distance from their respective suns to potentially support life. These planets are each 2x the size of Earth, but one orbits a sun half the size of our own. 95% of the planets found are smaller than Neptune (which is 4x larger than Earth). Since the planet hunting technique the Kepler used here is more likely to find planets closer to their suns, this new batch may not represent every planet in the 305 solar systems observed. Once further information comes in from Kepler, we’ll know if there are even more planets in these systems that are farther away from their suns.