MOFFETT FIELD — What began as a trickle of new planet discoveries from the Kepler Space Telescope a decade ago has turned into a torrent: 2,335 verified sightings, with about 50 our size and shape that may orbit around the warm glow of stars like our own sun.

At a Monday morning news conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center, scientists released the final and most definitive tally from the prolific planet detector Kepler, which gazes into a slice of sky near the constellation Cygnus to detect the subtle dimming that occurs every time a planet passes in front of — or “transits” — its sun.

“Most stars have planets. Many of these planets are earth-like. A fair fraction are in the habitable zone,” said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator, recently retired, who devoted two decades to getting the Kepler project launched.

Yet these planetary systems are very diverse, he added. “While our own solar system is not unique, it is pretty unusual.”

There are 4,034 planet “candidates,” awaiting confirmation. Of 50 Earth-sized planets in the so-called “goldilocks zone” of habitability, 30 have been verified.

Kepler was launched into an orbit around the sun on March 6, 2009. Its large survey mission …read more

Source:: East Bay – Science

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