CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 18 (UPI) — A NASA spacecraft has discovered hundreds of planets circling stars beyond our solar system, possibly doubling the number of known “exoplanets,” a study says.
The Kepler spacecraft has made preliminary observations, announced Wednesday, of 706 candidate planets around distant stars, Science News magazine reported.
If confirmed, it will increase the number of known exoplanets, estimated at about 460, to more than a thousand, the magazine said.
The discoveries were made by analyzing data from the orbiting Kepler telescope recorded in the spring of 2009 when it examined 156,000 stars.
“This is a massively historic discovery,” study co-author Sara
Seager of MIT said. “This is showing how the Kepler mission will revolutionize exoplanets and change the way we do exoplanet science.”
Scientists say about 400 of the 706 candidate planets offer the best chance of finding exoplanets with masses close to that of the Earth.
Scientist will use ground-based telescopes in an effort to confirm some of the planets’ masses.
“We’re using the Keck telescope (on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea) 20 nights
per year just to follow up the Kepler planets,” veteran planet hunter and study co-author Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, said.
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