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Hunting habitable planets with NASA's Kepler telescope

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Hunting habitable planets with NASA's Kepler telescope

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NASA’s Kepler telescope has identified 503 new potential planets, some of which may even be habitable.

“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,” said Roger Hunter, Kepler mission manager of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Just 132 of the potential planets have been confirmed by follow-up observations to date, however mission scientists expect at least 90 percent will end up being the real deal.

Researchers said the new haul was pulled from observations that Kepler made during its first three years of operation, from May 2009 to March 2012.

The telescope has not done any planet hunting since being put out of action by a failure in its orientation-maintaining system last month.

The Kepler spacecraft launched in March 2009, kicking off a three and a half long year mission to determine how common Earth-like planets are throughout the Milky Way galaxy.

Kepler spots exoplanets by detecting the tiny brightness dips caused when they pass in front of their stars’ faces from the instrument’s perspective.

The observatory does this precision work by staying locked onto 150,000-plus target stars using three gyroscope-like devices called reaction wheels.

“At the beginning of June, the team delivered 1,924 new Kepler Objects of Interest (KOIs) to the NASA Exoplanet Archive and 503 already have been dispositioned as planet candidates, while many others are destined to become false positives,” Roger Hunter said.

“These newly announced planet candidates bring the current count of Kepler planet 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. The team continues to assess and disposition the remaining KOIs,” he added.

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