By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
This Wednesday, NASA used its Kepler telescope to discover 715 new exoplanets – planets outside our Solar System – which is now the largest amount ever discovered at once. While the bulk is impressive in its own right, the idea that one of these planets may contain life is another reason the discovery is so exciting.
Before this discovery, there were only 1,000 known exoplanets in space. These new additions nearly double that number in a single go! All 715 exoplanets are orbiting only 305 stars, which means that they are part of a multi-planetary system just like our Solar System. Most of them are closer in size to Earth than the very large planet Jupiter, however, only 4 of them are in what is known as the habitable zone – a specific region far enough from a star not to burn to a crisp, yet still close enough to sustain liquid water.
The presence of water is crucial for life to exists, which is why having 4 planets in the habitable zone is so newsworthy. However, they are at least twice the size of our Earth, so most likely they are gas planets that are not capable of harboring life.
The Kepler telescope made these discoveries after its first 2 years of space exploration by using a special technique to guess where the best places to find planets were. Since it was launched back in 2009, there may be many more planets for the space agency to analyze coming very soon.
Images courtesy of NASA.