Ten new planets outside our solar system that are likely the right size and temperature to potentially support life on them have been found by NASA’s planet-hunting telescope.
The 10 planets are among 219 new planets announced by NASA.
The latest research is based on observations made by Kepler during the first four years of its primary mission. NASA announced Monday its new findings — and it only looked in a tiny part of the galaxy.
There are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler, according to NASA, of which 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.
Mario Perez, Kepler program scientist in the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said the new discovery means that “we are probably not alone” because four years of data show how common Earth-like planets can be.
“The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near Earth-analogs — planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth,” Perez said. “Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth.”
Scientists agreed that this is a boost in the hope for life elsewhere.
“This carefully-measured catalog is the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy’s most compelling questions — how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?” said Susan Thompson, Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and lead author of the study.
NASA said several of the 10 new potentially habitable planets circle stars similar in size to our sun.
“We like to think of this study as classifying planets in the same way that biologists identify new species of animals,” said Benjamin Fulton, doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and lead author of the second study. “Finding two distinct groups of exoplanets is like discovering mammals and lizards make up distinct branches of a family tree.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.