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Kepler space telescope data uncovers 715 new planets

New technique allows scientists to quickly confirm exoplanet detections

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3:33pm, February 27, 2014

DIVERSIFIED  Planets newly confirmed by the Kepler space telescope (orange) substantially increase the total number of planets known outside our solar system. Most of these new worlds are smaller than Neptune, whereas previously (blue), Jupiter-like planets dominated the landscape.

The galaxy just got more crowded. Astronomers using data from the Kepler space telescope have confirmed the existence of 715 new planets orbiting 305 stars, increasing the total number of known planets to about 1,700. This is the largest number of planet confirmations ever announced at once.

“We’ve struck the mother lode,” said Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., during a February 26 press conference. “It’s an exoplanet bonanza.”

The new planets are mostly small — 94 percent are no bigger than Neptune — and circle their stars along with sister planets in compact, circular orbits all in the same plane. The new findings increase the number of confirmed Earth-sized planets by 400 percent.

The planetary arrangements “remind us of home,” said Jason Rowe, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “We’re seeing scaled-down versions of our solar system.”

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