Image: This is a shot depicting all 1,235 potential alien planets located by the Kepler space probe to date. The planets are actually just the tiny black dots though, the big balls are the stars they orbit, to scale. – link
NASA announced on Friday that its Kepler telescope has discovered 11 new planetary systems that include 26 confirmed alien planets.
The new planets vary in size from one-and-a-half times the radius of Earth to bigger than Jupiter. Their orbital periods range from six to 143 days, and they all orbit closer to their stars than Venus does to our sun.
The discoveries nearly double the number of alien worlds — or “exoplanets” planets — found by Kepler outside our solar system and help astronomers better understand how planets form. However, scientists still have to determine the make-up of the planets, such as whether their surfaces are rocky or gaseous.
“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky,” Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”