THE US space agency says its Kepler space telescope mission has confirmed 26 new planets outside our solar system, all of them orbiting too close to their host stars to sustain life.
» Space | Friday, January 27, 2012 • Air News Times
Scattered across 11 planetary systems, their temperatures would be too hot for survival, as they all circle their stars closer than Venus, the second planet from the Sun, which has a surface temperature of 464C.
But NASA scientists were still pleased with the findings, which nearly double the number of confirmed planets that Kepler has found since 2009.
"Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky," said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA headquarters yesterday.
"Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2300 planet candidates," he said.
"This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits."
The discoveries are described in four different papers in the Astrophysical Journal and the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, NASA said in a statement.
Kepler is NASA's first mission in search of Earth-like planets orbiting stars similar to our Sun.
It launched in March 2009, equipped with the largest camera ever sent into space and is expected to continue its science operations until at least November 2012.
In December last year, NASA announced Kepler had confirmed its first-ever planet in a habitable zone outside our solar system, Kepler 22b, though it remained unclear whether the surface was rocky or gaseous.