News / Science & Technology

US Space Telescope Spots 715 More Planets

FILE - Part of the Milky Way galaxy as seen from Australia. (AP)
FILE - Part of the Milky Way galaxy as seen from Australia. (AP)
Scientists added a record 715 additional planets to the list of known worlds beyond the solar system, boosting the overall tally to nearly 1,700, astronomers said on Wednesday.

The additions include four planets about 2.5 times as big as Earth that are the right distance from their parent stars for liquid surface water, which is believed to be key for life.

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 tally of planets announced at a NASA press conference on Wednesday boosted Kepler's confirmed planet count from 246 to 961.

Combined with other telescopes' results, the headcount of planets beyond the solar system, or exoplanets, now numbers nearly 1,700.

“We almost doubled, just today, the number of planets known to humanity,” astronomer Douglas Hudgins, head of exoplanet exploration at NASA Headquarters in Washington, told reporters on a conference call.

The population boom is due to a new verification technique that analyzes potential planets in batches rather than one at a time. The method was developed after scientists realized 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.”

Like the solar system, which has eight planets plus Pluto and other so-called “dwarf planets,” the newly found exoplanets belong in families.

But unlike the solar system's planets, which span from inner Mercury to outer Neptune some 150 times farther from the sun than Earth, the Kepler clans are bunched in close.

Most of the planets fly nearer to their parent stars than Venus orbits the sun, a distance of about 67 million miles [108 million kilometers].

NASA and other space agencies are designing follow-on telescopes to home in on planets in so-called “habitable zones” around their parent stars where temperatures would be suitable for liquid surface water.

Two papers on the new Kepler research will appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

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Comment Sorting
by: Perry Neheum from: Woodbridge, VA
March 03, 2014 2:06 PM
Man, you just know all the earth's Bible and Jesus freaks are freakin' out!

Whoa! I mean, how many of these (and millions and millions of other) planets have their own god(s) and sons of gods?

Roman Catholics especially aren't gonna like this. They're probably prayin' that their "God" destroy his (her?) rivals!

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
February 28, 2014 9:56 AM
Always in search of source of life. Now do we go to outer space to look at exoplanets? Tell me something; if it takes light millions of years traveling at ultra high frequency velocity to reach the earth, how long will it take our known transport jets - the type used for space travels by NASA et al - to reach these planets? Then if you see that nothing on earth can ever travel to these planets in a foreseeable future, do you wonder what they exist for? The bottom line is that man on earth is either becoming useless to himself in these matters trying to antagonize God, or it is the malfunctioning of their telescopes that creates those images and mirages now interpreted to be exoplanets.

But there is only one who can make it possible to travel to those planets and beyond, and also return to earth just in one day. In the morning he told the woman, "don't touch, I have not yet gone to my father", and in the evening he was saying to his friends, "touch me, put your hand here; doubt no more... you believe because you can see me, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe". And his friend said, "my Lord and my God".

by: k from: q
February 26, 2014 11:09 PM
With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for vastness of Space.
And We have spread out the (spacious) earth: how excellently We do spread out!.

by: mark westberg from: Minneapolis
February 26, 2014 11:04 PM
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

by: Joanne from: Austin Tx.
February 26, 2014 10:15 PM
We are not alone

by: olgalaporte from: battleground, wa.
February 26, 2014 10:08 PM

by: jonathan from: ny
February 26, 2014 10:05 PM
Interesting to hear about and read articles like this

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