The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has recently announced their biggest planet discovery so far. A total of 1,284 new planets have been verified through the U.S. agency's space telescope Kepler, as announced by NASA's chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, at the NASA headquarters in Washington.
Stofan further stated that this discovery has given them hope in the possibility of finding habitable planet like the Earth. However, before candidate discoveries can be verified as planets, they have to reach the 99 percent threshold requirement standardized by NASA in their analysis. The team started their analysis on 4,302 potential planets in 2015, and only the 1,284 planets were able to reach the threshold. About 1,327 potential planets have not reached the threshold, so further analysis will be undertaken. Seven hundred seven of the remaining discoveries are considered "like some other astrophysical phenomena."
Scientists also employed a specialized technique called Vespa, which validates the signals picked up by Kepler, either increasing or decreasing the chance that they were indeed from planets. According to head researcher from Princeton University Timothy Norton, over 7,000 signals were identified in the Kepler catalog, and were verified using Vespa. As a result, the 1,284 planets with the 99 percent certainty were acknowledged as planets.
Kepler searched within the "habitable zone" also known as the "Goldilocks Zone," where planets are neither too near nor to far from their star. This is the area set by NASA to be close enough to a star for water to exist and to pool, which means the existing water is liquid unlike in Pluto where water has turned into ice because of its distance to the sun.
In this latest batch of planets, 550 appear to have the rocky terrain and size of the Earth, according to NASA. Kepler mission scientist Natalie Batalha added that nine planets have been added to the "exoplanet hall of fame," referring to planets that orbit stars outside our solar system. Furthermore, 21 exoplanets are believed to be of the same size and orbit as the Earth to the sun, Batalha said.
The Kepler space telescope is "the first to detect rocky planets in the habitable zone of their parent star," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director. He further stated that this took them closer to finding out life outside the Earth.