The team behind the Kepler Space Telescope recently confirmed that the telescope, launched in early 2009 and specifically designed to hunt down Earth-sized planets outside of our solar system, has found 54 new Earth-like planets orbiting in the “habitable” zones of their star.
The results were combed from data taken by the satellite from May to September 2009. During this period, the telescope scanned the area of space in the direction of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra* and discovered 1235 planetary candidates circling 997 host stars, thereby tripling the number of known exoplanets.
*I have a cat named Lyra. I guess this means she is an alien. This does not surprise me.
Of these additions, 68 are Earth-sized planets and 288 are “super-Earths”—rocky masses larger than our planet, sometimes twice as large.
The astronomers behind the telescope also confirmed the existence of a six-planet solar system, where before only two-planet systems had been discovered.
More info is available in the above link. Of course, the real mindblower will come when we’re actually able to pinpoint these planets and spectrograph them. Detecting the atmospheric content of an exoplanet Earth will be our first real sign that we are not alone.
Blurry pic of the Map of the Verse by Quantum Mechanix
Chris Greenland calls dibs on the cowboy planet.