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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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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Tatooine times two: Kepler space telescope finds a planet with four suns

Artist’s concepton of PH1 orbiting the two closest binary stars, with the second pair of stars farther out. Credit: Haven Giguere / Yale

Until recently, astronomers only knew about exoplanets which, like those in our own solar system, orbited a single star. Then, the first one was discovered which orbits two stars, much like Tatooine in the Star Wars films. Since then, other similar planets have been found, indicating that such circumbinary planets (those which orbit double stars) may be fairly common.

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41 new exoplanets confirmed by Kepler space telescope

Illustration of the newly confirmed exoplanets (in green) along with additional unconfirmed planets in the same solar systems (in violet). Credit: Jason Steffen, Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics

The number of confirmed exoplanets found by the Kepler space telescope has increased again, by 41. The planets, which orbit 20 different stars, range in size from about the same size as Earth to more than seven times Earth’s radius.

The results come from two new studies of the Kepler data; the papers are still in the process of being peer-reviewed, but the new discoveries should increase significantly the number of confirmed exoplanets found by Kepler so far. Currently, that number stands at 77, with 2,321 additional candidates awaiting confirmation.

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Another Tatooine: Kepler discovers multiple planets orbiting two stars

Diagram showing the comparison of orbits of the two Kepler-47 planets with the inner planets in our own solar system (planetary sizes and orbits to scale). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle (SSC / Caltech)

Not too long ago, the Kepler space telescope discovered the first exoplanet which orbited two binary stars (a circumbinary star system). Such planets had been thought possible, but this was the first confirmed detection of a world reminiscent of the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars films, a planet with a double sunrise and double sunset.

Now another such planetary system has been found by Kepler, but this one consists of not just one, but two known planets. The planets orbit the binary star system Kepler-47, which is about 4,900 light-years from Earth.

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