Kepler's Plenty: 6 Super-Earths, And 1,200 More Exoplanet Candidates

By Andrew Moseman | February 2, 2011 4:02 pm

For months we here at DISCOVER have been waiting impatiently for the Kepler mission to open up its vault of new exoplanets, hopefully filled with a bevy of Earth-like worlds and other exotic planets. Today planet lovers got a new peek at the Kepler findings, and those findings are stunning.

First, the Kepler scientists announced more than 1,200 candidate planets, which got DISCOVER blogger Phil Plait excited:

This is incredible! Even though I was expecting a number like this, actually hearing it for real is stunning. In 15 years we’ve found about 500 planets orbiting other stars, but in the almost two years since Kepler launched it may have easily tripled that number! Now, to be careful: these are candidate planets, which means they have not been confirmed. But in most cases these look pretty good, and if these numbers hold up it indicates that our galaxy is lousy with planets. They’re everywhere.

While those 1,200 are candidates, astronomers have confirmed a peculiar and fascinating set of six. From Phil Plait:

Using NASA’s orbiting Kepler observatory, astronomers have found a complete solar system of six planets orbiting a sun-like star… and it’s really weird: five of the six planets huddle closer to their star than Mercury does to the Sun!

None of them is what I would call precisely earth-like — they’re all more massive and much hotter than Earth — but their properties are intriguing, and promise that more wonderful discoveries from Kepler are coming.

Related Content:
80beats: Astronomers Predict a Bonanza of Earth-Sized Exoplanets
80beats: How Excited Should We Be About the New “Goldilocks” Exoplanet?
80beats: Astronomers Find a Bevy of Exoplanets; Won’t Discuss Most Interesting Ones
DISCOVER: How Long Until We Find a Second Earth?

ESO/L. Calçada

MORE ABOUT: exoplanets, Kepler, NASA, stars
  • Kip Ezra

    Ever since I finished reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan, I figured our galaxy must be full of life… let alone the billions of galaxies that are visible to us. Many scientists thought and think so, but getting confirmation must be very different. It was most striking when I read about the discovery of one particular planet some time ago, discovered by the Kepler team. The article of which I read on NASA’s website, and neatly formatted along the text was an image, an artist’s rendering of the discovered planet. I read and fully understood the text, but only after seeing the image did the profundity of the discovery dawn on me. Afterwards, I was very much bothered. How come it took concept art for me to fully comprehend? The same thing happened today. Before, I always thought something along the lines of: “Well, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we ended up finding over a million Earth-sized planets in our galaxy alone.” Yet what was discussed today wasn’t just surprising. I stared at my computer screen slack-jawed as a Kepler team member was spilling the details. You could stop me right now and say that the data doesn’t say those millions of Earth-like planets are actually out there, but we can see where this is heading. Kepler has only been on-going for a little over a year and a half. Going forward, no matter how imaginative we can try to be or pretend to be, our minds will continually be blown.

  • GuruOfChem

    Way to go Kepler team and astronomers everywhere! Everyone should feel both a bit less alone and a bit more a citizen of the cosmos today – I know I do!


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