Kepler is surveying 100,000 stars in our neighborhood of the Milky Way Galaxy (in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations) in to discover Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone. Most of these stars will be somewhere between 500 and 3,000 light years from the Solar System.
Click the image to see more about Kepler's discoveries.
One discovery was six confirmed planets orbiting a Sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our Solar System.
"In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today's reality," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "These discoveries underscore the importance of NASA's science missions, which consistently increase understanding of our place in the cosmos."
The discoveries are part of hundreds of new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released yesterday. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size, 288 are super-Earth-size, 662 are Neptune-size, 165 are Jupiter-size, and 19 are larger than Jupiter. Of the 54 new planet confirmed candidates found in the habitable zone, 5 are Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from twice the size of Earth to larger than Jupiter.
Click the image to see more about the Sea Strider on the exoplanet Darwin IV, by Wayne Barlow.
The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009, of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler's field of view, which covers approximately 1/400 of the sky.
"The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission's science principal investigator. "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."
So, basically, what we can glean from this is that:
- Planets are common in our part of the Milky Way Galaxy.
- Earth-like planets are not uncommon.
- Many Earth-like planets in our region orbit their stars in the habitable zone.
- ZOMG! ALIENZ ARE EVERYWHEREZ!
Ahem. Anyway, exciting stuff!