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Today NASA held a press conference at 1pm EST to present the discovery of over 1,200 exoplanet candidates by the Kepler telescope, an orbiting space observatory that’s been watching a section of the sky near the constellation Cygnus for the past year and a half. (The spacecraft launched on March 6, 2009.) So far it has identified 1,253 planet candidates, 68 of which are Earth-sized – 54 of those within the habitable zone of their host stars. The most recent of these exoplanet systems is around a star labeled Kepler-11 2,000 light-years away, around which six planets have been identified – some close to the size of Earth, but not within its habitable zone. Still, a six-planet system is very exciting! For a good recap of the discovery watch the video above, it sums up the information delivered during today’s hour-long conference very nicely.
Needless to say this is a very exciting time for astronomy! Twelve years ago we didn’t even have confirmation of any planets outside our solar system. Before 2009 we only knew of a dozen or so. Now we have over 1,200…with more discovered every day. And this from searching a space only 1/400th of the area of the visible sky! Still, to quote Kepler principal investigator Bill Borucki, in order to find out if any of these planets may harbor life we will need “patience…and lots of money.” Let’s hope we can keep people excited about this, for science and for what it may mean about our place in the universe.
To watch the full press conference click here.
Video: NASA Ames Research Center