Scientists Find 11 New Planetary Systems

Triples number of known multiplanetary star systems
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2012 8:17 AM CST
Scientists Find 11 New Planetary Systems
This image taken by the Kepler telescope Thursday, April 16, 2009 shows an expansive, 100-square-degree patch of sky in our Milky Way galaxy where it hopes to find Earth-like planets.   (AP Photo/NASA/JPL CALTECH)

The Kepler space telescope has discovered a whopping 11 new planetary systems that are home to 26 planets—thus tripling the number of stars that have more than one planet that passes in front of them and doubling the number of exoplanets confirmed by the Kepler mission. "Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky," says a NASA scientist. "Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates."

In other words, "our galaxy is positively loaded with planets." But the new systems aren't much like ours. The planets have relatively brief orbits around their stars; the longest is 143 days, while the shortest is six. The planets range in size from 1.5 times bigger than Earth to larger than Jupiter. But as Kepler continues to probe a field of 150,000 stars (it measures any changes in these stars' brightness, which would signal that a planet is crossing in front of the star), it's expected to find more "Earth-sized" than "Jupiter-sized" planets, Discovery notes—and the systems it finds in the future are likely to look more like ours. (More solar system stories.)

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