Added by James Morley on February 7, 2011
Some 54 new planets potentially providing habitable environments have been identified by the Kepler space telescope.
The announcement brings the total number of exoplanet candidates identified by the telescope team to more than 1,200. Five of the new discoveries are Earth-sized.
The Kepler telescope is designed to search for exoplanets in a small patch of sky in the direction of the Cygnus and Lyra constellations.
The most recent data confirmed 170 further solar systems with more than one planet circling a star, as well as a unique sextet of planets surrounding an eight billion-year-old star some 2,000 light-years away.
Since it started observing the sky, the Kepler telescope has discovered 68 Earth-sized planets, 288 “super-Earths” – up to two times the size of the Earth -, 662 Neptune-sized, and 184 even bigger planets.
William Borucki, head of the Kepler science programme at Nasa’s Ames Research Center, said: “The fact that we’ve found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy.”
The telescope looks specifically for the dimming of light that happens when an exoplanet passes in front of its host star.