NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered more than 1,200 planets beyond the solar system. This artist’s illustration shows a newly discovered planetary system — the sunlike star Kepler-11 and its six planets, the most densely packed planetary system known.
Astronomers have identified 1,235 candidate planets beyond the solar system, including 54 where life might have a chance of gaining a foothold.
Extrapolating from the findings, which are based on observations of bright stars in a tiny patch of sky monitored by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, some 20,000 planets may reside in other regions of the Milky Way where liquid water is stable, says Kepler chief scientist Bill Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. He reported the results, which are based on Kepler’s first four months of operation, at a NASA press briefing on February 2.
“I’m just exhilarated we’ve found all these things already, and I’m awed that there are so many,” said Borucki. The Kepler contenders are separate from the more than 500 confirmed extrasolar planets that astronomers have discovered since 1995.