NASA's Kepler spacecraft IDs hundreds of new planet candidates

One of the potentially inhabitable planets, dubbed TRAPPIST-1E, is very similar in size to Earth and likely has very similar temperatures.

It's important to note that NASA's rules for what defines a "planet" are incredibly exacting.

Kepler has already discovered 4,034 potential exoplanets, 2,335 of which have been confirmed by other telescopes as actual planets.

"They say not to count our chickens before they're hatched, but that's exactly what these results allow us to do based on probabilities that each egg (candidate) will hatch into a chick (bona fide planet)".

Of the verified planets, there are roughly 50 that are close to Earth in size and orbit their stars in the habitable zone. But Kepler's ability to find and confirm exoplanets and rocky Earth-size planets also provides candidates for future observation by space telescopes. reports that the telescope stars at a single patch of sky looking for "alien planets".

This sharpens the dividing line between potentially habitable planets and those that are inhospitable to life as we know it, the researchers said.

These 10 worlds bring the total of potentially habitable planets up to 30.

He compared the identification of these new planet classes to the discovery that mammals and lizards are separate branches on the tree of life.

Almost all the planet candidates are in between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. The conference was held at the Ames Research Center in California as part of exoplanet week, which began Saturday.

Kepler can still hunt for planets, but photons from the Sun don't generate as much force as a reaction wheel can.

NASA says the telescope is able to accomplish this by detecting a drop in a star's brightness, which happens when a planet passes in front of it. Susan Thompson, Kepler research scientist, said in the release that the telescope's catalog will serve as a foundation to answer the question of "how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?"

What makes the discovery all the more astonishing is that not only is the system just 40 light years away from Earth, but that three of the planets discovered are within what we would call the "habitable zone".

NASA is getting better at identifying Earth-sized exoplanets in other ways, too.

Until KOI-7711 is verified and earns an official Kepler planet name - a process that requires a different telescope (usually ground-based) to observe it transiting - this is all speculation.

Including other telescope surveys, scientists have confirmed the existence of almost 3,500 planets beyond the solar system. It's a rocky planet that is only 30 percent wider than Earth and has an orbit of nearly exactly one year.

It has enough fuel to keep identifying candidates until summer 2018 and is helping bridge the gap between Kepler and TESS by identifying targets for the James Webb Space Telescope to observe.

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