NASA’s planet-hunting telescope is finding whole new worlds of possibilities in the search for alien life. An early report from a cosmic census indicates that relatively small planets and stable multi-planet systems are far more plentiful than previous searches showed.
NASA released new data yesterday from its Kepler telescope on more than 1,000 possible new planets outside our solar system — more than doubling the count of what astronomers call exoplanets. They haven’t been confirmed as planets yet, but some astronomers estimate that 90 percent of what Kepler has found will be verified.
Kepler, launched in 2009, has been orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars, conducting a planet census and searching for Earth-like planets since last year. It has found there are more planets that are much smaller than Jupiter than there are giant planets. Some of these approach Earth’s size, which means they are better potential candidates for life.
While Kepler hasn’t yet found planets that are as small as Earth, all the results are “pointing in the right direction,” University of California Santa Cruz astronomer Jonathan Fortney said.