Kepler mission from NASA discovers 26 planets in 11 new planetary systems

(EndPlay Staff Reports) - A NASA mission has discovered 11 new planetary systems, giving astronomers a better idea of how planets form.

NASA announced that its Kepler mission has found 11 systems hosting 26 confirmed planets. Their sizes range from 1.5 times Earth's radius to bigger than Jupiter.

Each system contains two to five planets. The system with the most, Kepler-33, includes a star older than the sun orbited by five planets ranging from 1.5 to 5 times the size of the Earth.

This brings to 61 the number of planets discovered and confirmed by the Kepler space telescope mission to date. There have also been 2,326 planet candidates and 2,165 eclipsing binary stars.

Doug Hudgins, a Kepler program scientist, stated in the release that prior to the mission NASA knew of about 500 exoplanets.

"Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not bigger than your first, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates," he stated. "This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits."

The mission's aim, as described by NASA, is to detect potentially life-supporting planets. Its way of finding planets is called the transit method.

When a planet passes in front of its star, it blocks a small portion of light from the star. The amount blocked and the brightness that gets through tells how big the planet is and lets scientists tell the size of its orbit and estimate its temperature.

MSNBC reported that the $600 million mission launched in 2009. It centers on a portion of the sky near the Cygnus and Lyra constellations.

"There is more diversity out there than our limited imaginations could come up with, which is good," Harvard astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, a Kepler co-investigator, told MSNBC.

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