The Kepler Space Telescope operated by the folks at NASA has reportedly found a whopping 461 potential alien planets. Four of these planets could possibly be the home to life similar to that found on Earth.
The new finds represent the latest update to the catalog of the $600 million Kepler mission, which launched in March 2009. Scientists had previously reported roughly 2,300 other candidate planets spotted during the telescope’s first 16 months of operation.
Kepler flags planets by noting the telltale brightness dips caused when they cross the face of, or transit, their host stars from the instrument’s perspective.
The telescope needs to witness three such transits to make a detection, so its early discoveries have been biased toward larger worlds in relatively tight orbits, reports Space.
According to the researchers, Kepler’s new detections also increase the number of stars known to host more than one planet candidate from 365 to 467.
“The large number of multi-candidate systems being found by Kepler implies that a substantial fraction of exoplanets reside in flat multi-planet systems,” Jack Lissauer, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said in a statement.
“This is consistent with what we know about our own planetary neighborhood.”
News Room America explains that the Kepler telescope has increased the number of possible Earth-sized planets by 43 percent.
The number of super Earth-sized candidates reportedly increased by 21 percent. Scientists believe this increases the chance of finding a planet that can sustain life similar to human beings.
While we don’t know if intelligent life exists on any of these planets, it raises the chances of that possibility.
“The information we presented today will excite the general public because we now know that the nearest potentially Earth-like world is likely within 13 light years of the sun,” astronomer Courtney Dressing said in an email to The Huffington Post.
“Astronomically speaking, 13 light years is practically next door.”
In order to determine if these planets are the real deal, each candidate will require additional observation by the NASA team at Ames Research Center.
The scientific team studied the huge number of red dwarf stars in our galaxy – stars that are smaller and have a longer life span than our own sun.
Scientists estimate 6 percent of the 75 billion red dwarf stars may have Earth-size planets orbiting them at a possible habitable distance. That works out to approximately 4.5 billion Earths out there.
“Before today, it could have been that Earth-like planets did not exist, or that they were so rare that the closest one would be beyond the reach of any telescope we might construct. Thus we would never know whether or not we were truly alone,” astronomer David Charbonneau told HuffPost in an email.
According to astronomer Courtney Dressing: “Future missions, such as the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (the successor to Hubble) and proposed extremely large ground-based telescopes, like the Giant Magellan Telescope, will be able to probe the atmospheres of nearby habitable planets.”
For those who are interested in taking a peek at the possible candidates, the entire catalog of Kepler discoveries can be found at the NASA Exoplanet Archive.