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NASA claims 'exoplanet bonanza': 715 new planets discovered

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NASA scientists announced Wednesday that the Kepler telescope had again discovered a rather large number of new planets, but this time it was far larger than anything previously announced. A full 715 new worlds circling 305 stars were added to the list of known extrasolar planets already confirmed by astronomers. The number nearly doubled the existing number of known extrasolar planets.

AFP reported (via Yahoo News) Feb. 26 that a new method for verifying potential planets was the explanation behind such a large volume of new discoveries from the Kepler telescope, which was placed in orbit solely to search out other worlds.

"What we have been able to do with this is strike the mother lode, get a veritable exoplanet bonanza," NASA planetary scientist Jack Lissauer told reporters. "We have almost doubled just today the number of planets known to humanity," he added.

The 715 new exoplanets pushes the number of known extrasolar planets to almost 1700.

The new method being used by NASA astronomers for the verification of exoplanets is based on a statistical technique that can be applied to multiple planets at once. Of the 150,000 stars the Kepler space telescope observes, more than 3,600 of them are believed to be candidate homes for planetary systems.

Prior to the new verification technique, scientists confirmed each planet individually. This required recording the number of times it passed in front of its star, a process known as a "transit." Three transits were necessary to qualify as confirmation of a planet.

The 715 new exoplanets were discovered by Kepler between 2009 and 2011 but it wasn't until recently that there was confirmation of their existence. The NASA findings will be published in the March 10 in The Astrophysical Journal.

The "exoplanet bonanza" undoubtedly is exciting news to planet hunters, astronomers, astrobiologists, and those searching for hints of life outside our terrestrial boundaries. The more worlds discovered, the more potential new Earths or other planets that might harbor life of some form.

A study announced in January 2013 noted that there could be as many as 17 billion Earth-sized worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone, an estimated one out of every six possible exoplanets. The findings followed a CalTech study estimating that there were approximately 100 billon planets in the Milky Way galaxy, an estimation projected from data gathered from the Kepler space telescope.

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