Kepler Just Nearly Doubled Science's Stock of Known ExoplanetsS

NASA released dramatic new findings from the planet-scouting Kepler spacecraft project Thursday. Looks like the universe is way, way more crowded than we had realized.

The Space Administration announced Thursday that the Kepler Spacecraft has discovered 26 new exoplanets in 11 systems. This nearly doubles the number of confirmed exoplanets, bringing the tally to 60, and upping the number of known extra-solar star systems to 16. Another 2,300 celestial candidates are awaiting confirmation of their planet-ness. And, according to Kepler program scientist Doug Hudgins, all of these bodies were discovered, "in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist." Not a bad haul for such a small swath of space.

The new planets range in size from 1.5-times the size of Earth to larger than Jupiter. You can put away your "Take Me to Your Leader" t-shirts, though—every one of the new 26 planets orbits its star far more closely than Venus does; placing them well out of the habitable zone needed to sustain life and liquid water. [NASA via The Register]

Image: AP - ESO / L. Calcada