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Kepler discovers new planets

NASA Telescope Discovers More than 500 New Alien Planet Candidates

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which is designed to detect Earth-size planets in the ‘Habitable Zone’, has discovered 503 new Earth-like planets which may be capable of supporting life, bringing the total number of exoplanet candidates to 3,216.

"Some of these new planet candidates are small and some reside in the habitable zone of their stars, but much work remains to be done to verify these results," Kepler mission manager Roger Hunter, of NASA's Ames Research Center said.

The new discoveries were made from an analysis of Kepler data between May 2009 and March 2012,, produced by searching for planets as they cross the face of alien stars.  Kepler has collected huge amounts of data, and team members have had time to go through just about half of it so far.

"We have excellent data for an additional two years," Kepler principal investigator Bill Borucki, also of NASA Ames, told reporters last month. "So I think the most interesting, exciting discoveries are coming in the next two years."

The $600 million Kepler spacecraft hasn’t been able to do any new planet hunting since suffering from faults in its orientation-maintaining system last month – one of its reaction wheels failed in July 2012 and a second one gave up last month. Unless one of the failed wheels can be recovered, Kepler is likely to be decommissioned as the wheel failures are robbing the spacecraft of its precision pointing ability.

Scientists believe that at least 90 per cent of the 3,216 planets found to date will end up being the real deal and already 132 have been confirmed.

By April Holloway

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