Kepler space telescope discovers 461 new exoplanet candidates

Diagram showing the current number of Kepler exoplanetary candidates, listed by size. The numbers of candidates which are Earth-size and super-Earth-size have increased by 43% and 21% since the last update in 2012. Credit: NASA

The Kepler space telescope has added hundreds of more exoplanet candidates to its already long and ever-growing list, it was announced today. There is now a current total of 2,740 planetary candidates, orbiting 2,036 stars.

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Some exoplanets may be even more habitable than Earth

Some rocky exoplanets may be warmer and more geologically active than Earth—and perhaps even more habitable. Credit: J. Pinfield / RoPACS / University of Hertfordshire

In the search for life elsewhere, the Earth is typically used as a standard against which other planets, or moons, are compared. Since our planet is teeming with seemingly countless life forms, it must represent the near-perfect, most ideal conditions for life to flourish, right? It would seem so, but new research is suggesting that may not be the case, that there may be other exoplanets in other solar systems which are even better suited for life than Earth is.

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Kepler gets mission extension in its search for Earth-like worlds

Timeline depicting major milestones during the Kepler mission so far.
Credit: NASA Ames Research Center / W. Stenzel

To say that the Kepler mission has been successful so far would be a major understatement – with 2,321 exoplanet candidates and 105 confirmed exoplanets to date, Kepler has revolutioned our understanding of planetary systems around other stars. Not all that long ago it wasn’t even known if any planets existed outside our solar system, and now they are being discovered on a regular basis.

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Free-floating ‘rogue’ planet discovered drifting in space

Artist’s conception of CFBDSIR2149. Credit: European Southern Observatory

Exoplanets, planets which orbit other stars, are now being discovered by the thousands. Current estimates now say that there are likely millions of them in our galaxy alone. But there is another type of planet which had been hypothesied to exist – rogue planets, drifting through space alone, not gravitationally bound to any stars. It’s a wild idea, and now the first evidence for just such free-style planets is being found by astronomers.

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