Kepler hits jackpot, discovers 26 new planets and 11 new star systems
NASA and its Kepler space telescope team announced on Thursday that Kepler has verified 26 new planets in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations, and 11 new star systems. The new planets vary in size, with some not much bigger than Earth, and quite a few significantly more massive than Jupiter.
There’s little hope that life exists on any of the newly-discovered planets, however. Like most of the exoplanets that Kepler has discovered, all of the new planets are closer to their sun than our own Venus is, which puts them far too close to be in what scientists consider to be the habitable zone.
Still, it’s an impressive discovery, and brings the total number of planets that NASA’s Kepler telescope has discovered since the planet-hunting program began to 61, which means that the latest batch just about doubles the amount of planets discovered so far.
“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky,” Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release. “Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”
[Image credit: AP - ESO / L. Calcada]