NASA’s Kepler telescope has identified 715 new planets beyond our Solar System.
In the nearly two decades since the first so-called exoplanet was discovered, researchers had claimed the detection of just over 1,000 new worlds.
Kepler’s latest bounty orbit only 305 stars, meaning they are all in multi-planet systems.
The vast majority, 95%, are smaller than our Neptune, which is four times the radius of the Earth.
Four of the new planets are less than 2.5 times the radius of Earth, and they orbit their host suns in the “habitable zone” – the region around a star where water can keep a liquid state.
Whether that is the case on these planets cannot be known for sure – Kepler’s targets are hundreds of light-years in the distance, and this is too far away for very detailed investigation.
The Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 on a $600 million mission to assess the likely population of Earth-sized planets in our Milky Way Galaxy.
Before Wednesday, the Kepler spacecraft had confirmed the existence of 246 exoplanets. It has now pushed this number up to 961. That is more than half of all the discoveries made in the field over the past 20 years.
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