715 New Planets Were Just Discovered (and Some May Be Habitable for Life)

715 New Planets Were Just Discovered (and Some May Be Habitable for Life)

Usually, when the Kepler space mission announces that they've discovered hundreds of of new planets, they're talking not about actual planets, but "planet candidates," which haven't yet been independently verified.

This time, they've found 715 new ones, nearly doubling the amount of known exoplanets in the entire universe. Thanks to a revision in the way that Kepler scientists analyze data to verify clusters of planets rather than singular planets, the team was able to confirm that they had identified the new solar bodies with a high degree of certainty. Yesterday, the astronomical community knew of about 1,000.

"For years, I've trained myself to say 'planet candidate' rather than 'planet' most of the time," said Jason Rowe, SETI Institute and Kepler scientist. "I have to change that."

While none of the planets are particularly Earth-like (just four of them sit in the "habitable zones" where liquid water could exist on the surface, while most are larger than our planet and orbit smaller stars), the majority are between Earth and Neptune in size, which suggests that mid-sized planets able to support life, like Earth, are much more common than previous hard evidence could demonstrate.

"The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home," Rowe said.

According to MIT astronomer Sara Seager, the newly discovered planets tend to cluster very close to stars. Imagine multiple planets much larger than Earth, orbiting their constituent stars closer than Venus or Mercury do ours. "So why isn’t Earth crammed close to the sun?" Seager asked. One possible explanation is that the original disk of gas and dust from which these planets formed was much denser than the one that led to our own solar system's formation.

"This just reminds us that planetary systems can be very different from ours," Seager said.

The best news? The 715 new planets come from just a revised look at the first two years of Kepler data, leaving several years of data to comb through.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

MORE FROM

Despite Trump, military leaders say there will be no changes to transgender policy for now

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."

Trump will visit Long Island to discuss gang violence — but some fear he could make the issue worse

Trump has celebrated mass deportations as fighting gang violence — but are his words helping or hurting?

Like his boss, Anthony Scaramucci seems to be a fan of disgraced football coach Joe Paterno

President Donald Trump also gave a shout-out to the late Penn State coach during the 2016 campaign.

Ride malfunction at Ohio State Fair leaves 1 dead, 7 injured

The ride reportedly broke apart while in motion.

Despite Trump, military leaders say there will be no changes to transgender policy for now

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."

Trump will visit Long Island to discuss gang violence — but some fear he could make the issue worse

Trump has celebrated mass deportations as fighting gang violence — but are his words helping or hurting?

Like his boss, Anthony Scaramucci seems to be a fan of disgraced football coach Joe Paterno

President Donald Trump also gave a shout-out to the late Penn State coach during the 2016 campaign.

Ride malfunction at Ohio State Fair leaves 1 dead, 7 injured

The ride reportedly broke apart while in motion.