NASA said Monday its Kepler Space Telescope mission discovered 10 new rocky, Earth-like planets outside of our solar system which could support life.
"Are we alone? Maybe Kepler today has told us indirectly, although we need confirmation, that we are probably not alone," said Kepler scientist Mario Perez.
Those 10 planets were orbiting suns at a similar distance to Earth's orbit around the sun. This distance is considered the "Goldilocks Zone" - not too close, not too far away from the sun, just right to support life.
Seven of these planets were circling stars similar to our sun. This does not mean life of any complexity has been found on these planets, but the chances that Earth is the only planet that supports life are dwindling.
"It implies that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone around sun-like stars are not rare," Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb wrote in an email to the AP news agency. Loeb was not part of the Kepler research team.
Kepler also discovered 209 other planets, scientists announced Monday.
More planets than expected
The Kepler telescope has detected nearly 50 planets in the Goldilocks Zone in four years of searching. The Kepler telescope only looked at a small part of the Milky Way galaxy. The telescope studied about 150,000 stars, while the Milky Way contains hundreds of billions of stars.
Before Kepler was launched in 2009, astronomers hoped there would be Earth-like planets around about 1 percent of stars. Scientists involved with the Kepler telescope said that number is closer to 60 percent this weekend.
"This number could have been very, very small," said Caltech astronomer Courtney Dressing.
"I, for one, am ecstatic."
The Kepler telescope will soon make way for its successor. The Transisting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will observe the brightest 200,000 nearby stars for two years starting next year.
The James Webb Space telescope, which will replace the Hubble telescope next year, will be able to detect the make-up of atmospheres of exoplanets. The James Webb telescope will also be able to determine the possibility of finding potential life forms.
kbd/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)