An additional 715 planets outside our solar system have been identified by astronomers using data from the Kepler space telescope. NASA says that boosts the overall tally to nearly 1,700. A few are potentially habitable.
The US space agency NASA announced late Wednesday that scientists using a new verification technique on data from the Kepler telescope had discovered 715 additional planets.
The new finds "almost certainly doubled" the number of planets known to humanity, said NASA planetary scientists during a news conference.
The additions include four exo-planets – those outside our solar system – at the right distance from their parent stars for surface water to stay liquid. The "habitable zone" is neither too hot nor too cold for life, which is dependent on water, to potentially exist.
More data to examine
The telescope, launched in 2009 but now disabled, spent four productive years staring at 160,000 stars. So far, two years of its data have been analyzed by scientists.
The 715 planets located were orbiting in clusters around stars, much like the Earth and its sister planets which orbit our sun.
'Small planets, extremely common'
Astronomer Sara Seagar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not part of the discovery team, said Kepler's data also indicated that "small planets are extremely common in our galaxy.
"That's why we have confidence that there will be planets like Earth in other places," Seagar said.
Twenty years ago, astronomers had only identified planets revolving around the sun.
ipj/ccp (AP, Reuters)