NASA scientists find 5,000 plus planets beyond Earth's solar system – USA TODAY

The universe is officially crowded with plenty of strange, new worlds to explore.
Scientists have now found more than 5,000 planets existing beyond our solar system, NASA has announced.
The Kepler Space Telescope, launched in 2009 and retired in 2018, led to the discovery of more than 2,600 planets. As space telescopes become more advanced, scientists will find more planets – and learn more about those already discovered.
“It’s not just a number,” said Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist with the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech in Pasadena, in the announcement of the milestone on Monday. “Each one of them is a new world, a brand-new planet. I get excited about every one because we don’t know anything about them.”
Since the first exoplanet – the term for a planet found outside our solar system – was discovered in 1995, scientists have found a variety of planets including “small, rocky worlds like Earth, gas giants many times larger than Jupiter, and ‘hot Jupiters’ in scorchingly close orbits around their stars,” NASA said in its announcement of the milestone on Monday.
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Also found: “super-Earths,” similar to but bigger than our planet, and even the planet Kepler-16b, which is similar to Tatooine, the home of Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” films, in that it orbits two stars.
“When I started research, there were no known #exoplanets… I feel like I’ve had a front row seat to this new field being born and then also becoming part of it,” said Natalie Batalha, an astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center near Mountain View, California, in a NASA interview posted on Twitter and YouTube.
“When I started research, there were no known #exoplanets… I feel like I’ve had a front row seat to this new field being born and then also becoming part of it,” says Dr. Natalie Batalha, recent guest on #AskAstrobio.

Watch the full episode here: https://t.co/C68XvFn5nw
Among other interesting finds, scientists using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile discovered an exoplanet – called either b Centauri (AB)b or b Centauri b – 10 times as massive as Jupiter orbiting a pair of stars in another solar system 325 light-years from Earth.
Back in 2020, NASA also found an Earth-like planet among the exoplanets discovered using observations from the Kepler Space Telescope.
“I get a real feeling of satisfaction, and really of awe at what’s out there,” said astronomer William Borucki, who came up with the idea for the Kepler Space Telescope, in a statement. “None of us expected this enormous variety of planetary systems and stars. It’s just amazing.”
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New space missions including the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which NASA expects to launch no later than 2027, has been designed to find new exoplanets, and The European Space Agency’s Ariel Space Mission, scheduled to launch in 2029, will study exoplanet atmospheres and carries a NASA instrument to investigate exoplanet atmospheres.
Meanwhile, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in 2018, is continuing NASA’s hunt for new planets and the James Webb Space Telescope, launched in December 2021, will help tell whether some planets are habitable.
With this continued exploration, it is likely scientists will discover signs of life on other planets eventually, said Alexander Wolszczan, who was the lead author on the paper 30 years ago describing the first exoplanets, in a statement as part of NASA’s announcement.
“To my thinking, it is inevitable that we’ll find some kind of life somewhere – most likely of some primitive kind,” he said.
What’s our favorite exoplanet? The next one. But the 5,005 we’ve discovered so far are pretty great too. And, please, check out https://t.co/Q72MwrjTwX for a fun surprise! pic.twitter.com/PjA6zytjDO
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

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