Kepler Telescope Finds Plethora of Earth-Size Planets
NASA’s premier planet-hunting scope turns up 647 possible Earth-size worlds in the Milky Way
By Clara Moskowitz
A little more than two decades ago, no planets had ever been detected outside the solar system. Now, more than 1,000 extrasolar planets have been confirmed, and on Monday the team behind the Kepler Space Telescope announced a haul of 833 more candidate planets to consider adding to the tally.
This embarrassment of riches is far beyond what scientists dared to hope for before NASA launched the Kepler mission in 2009. The telescope, in permanent orbit around the sun, identifies planets by watching them “transit,” or pass in front of, their stars, briefly dimming the stars’ light. “When I first started working with Kepler right before launch, I thought there would be maybe a thousand planets that Kepler would find,” Jason Rowe, an astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif., said during a press conference Monday at the Kepler Science Conference in Moffett Field, Calif.
In actuality, Kepler has uncovered more than 3,500 candidate exoplanets in its first three years, including large and small planets, rocky and gaseous worlds, and a total of 647 possible planets that appear to be Earth-sized…