New technique allows scientists to quickly confirm exoplanet detections
W. Stenzel/NASA Ames
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.”