Software helps scientists double planet count

Image: Planet diversity
A graphic shows the diversity of planets. (Credit: NASA)

The scientists behind NASA’s Kepler mission are using statistics to put their campaign to identify new planets into overdrive: New software that automates the process has verified 1,284 candidates as genuine planets rather than celestial “impostors,” more than doubling its database of confirmed worlds.

“This is the most exoplanets that have ever been announced at one time,” Princeton University researcher Timothy Morton said today during a teleconference revealing the latest counts.

Kepler’s official tally of potentially habitable planets close to Earth’s size took a jump as well, from 12 to 21.

NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan hailed the rapid progress. “This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth,” she said in a statement.

The dramatic acceleration in the planet hunt is due to a statistical method pioneered by Morton and his colleagues, and described in a paper published in theAstrophysical Journal.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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