More than 100 of the new planets are 1.2 Earth masses or smaller and are “almost certainly rocky in nature.”
Of all the new planets, 550 are small and possibly rocky; nine of them reside in the habitable zone which could potentially support life.
The Kepler Space Telescope is a space observatory launched in 2009 with the mission of finding Earth-sized planets in areas that could potentially support life.
In the 2009 mission, Kepler, which makes a complete journey around the sun every 371 days, constantly shifted its gaze as it orbited in order to stayed fixed on a single section of sky. This allowed it to monitor roughly150,000 stars for years at a time.
The telescope searches for the faint dimming that occurs when a planet crosses the path of one of those stars. The goal of this is to identify possible exoplanets that are Earth-sized or larger and are located in zones that are favorable to life.
The new findings more than double the number of previously known exoplanets. Take a look:
Since its launch, Kepler has helped astronomers confirm the existence of more than 1,000 exoplanets, or planets outside of our solar system. Astronomers now believe that, on average, there may be at least one planet orbiting every star in the sky.
In 2014, NASA started K2, a follow-up to the 2009 Kepler mission, continued the search for exoplanets while also studying supernovae, comets, asteroids, and other cosmic phenomena using Kepler. While the original Kepler mission required the telescope to remain fixed on one, unchanging portion of the sky, in K2 its field of view sweeps a band across the entire sky, pointing to a new portion of the sky every 80 days, TIME reports.
Of the thousands of candidates NASA found this round, a whopping 1,284 have been confirmed. They’re shown in the pie chart below in orange:
“We are sampling the galaxy to understand how many planets there are and how far out we have to search in order to find potentially habitable planets like earth,” Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in the announcement.
Here’s a look at all the planets in the habitable zone — shown below in green — which could potentially support life:
Source: Business Insider