NASA’s Kepler space telescope was launched for the purpose of finding new objects, like planets, far off in space, and it has done its job so incredibly well astronomers now have more new planets than they know what to do with. Researchers just announced latest batch of worlds that Kepler has detected, numbering a whopping 95, and pushing the space telescope’s total tally to over 2,400 new planets.
The Kepler telescope is currently in an extended mission phase after already completing its primary mission and discovering thousands of new worlds. This new effort, called “K2,” has already resulted in the discovery of nearly 300 new planets, proving that the telescope still has plenty of power to comb the heavens for undetected exoplanets.
In order to spot these new worlds, scientists began sifting through an immense amount of data that Kepler has sent back. Dating back to 2014, the wealth of observations produced a total of 275 “candidate” signals which may or may not have been planets. After sifting through the numbers one-by-one, 149 of the signals were shown to be exoplanets, and 95 of those are entirely new to science.
“Exoplanets are a very exciting field of space science,” Andrew Mayo of the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark said in a press release. “As more planets are discovered, astronomers will develop a much better picture of the nature of exoplanets which in turn will allow us to place our own solar system into a galactic context.”
The new planets range in size from smaller than Earth to larger than even the mighty Jupiter, and one of the planets was particularly special. The never-bef0re-seen world is orbiting the brightest start ever discovered by the Kepler telescope. That’s particularly important because planets orbiting bright stars are often easier to study, and can yield additional information with subsequent observations.
Because of the distance of the planets from Earth — often hundreds of light years or more — it’s difficult for researchers to determine their potential for hosting life. As telescope technology pushes forward, additional information about the planets may be revealed, but for now we simply know that they exist.