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More than 700 new planets discovered

NASA finds 140 new “Earths” – sparking fresh debate about life outside our solar system.

Image: NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel

THE FIRST SIX weeks of the latest NASA space mission has yielded thrilling results for scientists: 706 new candidate planets.

Of the planets found, 140 are said to be “earth-like”, prompting hopes of finding intelligent life in the universe.

The work is being conducted as part of the NASA’s Kepler Mission, which is sending a deep-space probe into space to search for habitable planets.

Scientists previously believed that planets outside our solar system, the Milky Way, would be gas-based giants like Jupiter or Saturn – and would therefore be unable to sustain life.

However, although the 140 planets discovered are yet to be examined for life (which will take some time), the discovery of so many solid worlds indicates that there may be other planets which contain water and would be able to support life.

So far just five of the planets have been formally named as planets by NASA; they are conducting investigations before confirming their status.

The probe works by using a 95-megapixel camera to  monitor the brightness of more than 100,000 stars in the Milky Way. It is able to detect and analyse the characteristics of planets by studying changes in light emissions.

The Kepler Mission is due to run for four years.

Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and a scientist on the Kepler Mission team, told Fox News:

“There is a lot more work we need to do with this, but the statistical result is loud and clear, and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there.”

More than 700 new planets discovered
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  • Kepler mission

    Kepler's First Five Discoveries All known 400+ exoplanets as of Dec 2009 plus the 5 new planets found with Kepler. The green band represents the parameters for habitable planets. Too close to the Sun and water vaporizes. Too far from the Sun and water freezes. Too low of a mass, and the planet does not have enough surface gravity to hold onto a life sustaining atmosphere. Too large of a mass and the planet has enough gravity to hold onto the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen, and become a gas-giant planet. NASA/Kepler missionSource: NASA/Kepler mission
  • Kepler mission2

    Photometer
  • Kepler mission 3

    Target Region in Milky Way (1)
  • Kepler mission 4

    Target Region in Milky Way (2)

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