The Kepler mission has discovered 1,284 planets, the most exoplanets announced at one time, according to Princeton associate research scholar Timothy Morton during a NASA press conference. This more than doubles the number of previously confirmed planets from Kepler.
“Kepler is the first telescope for detecting small rocky planets in the habitable zone of their stars,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA. “Thanks to Kepler, we know exoplanets are common, most stars in our galaxy have planetary systems and they are potentially habitable planets. Knowing this is the first step to addressing whether are we alone in the universe.”
Since launching in 2009, Kepler has been watching more than 150,000 stars in one part of the sky to determine exoplanet candidates, based on the slight dimming of stars as potential planets pass across them.
The goal has been to discover more Earth-like planets, or goldilocks, in the habitable zone, where water can pool on the surface of a planet. They are usually 1.6 times the size of Earth with rocky terrain. Of these newly discovered planets, nine orbit in the habitable zone of their star and nearly 550 are possibly rocky planets roughly around the same size as Earth. The discovery of these nine planets contributes to 21 exoplanets in the habitable zone “hall of fame.”