NASA says it has almost doubled the number of planets known to humanity with a "bonanza" uncovered by its planet-hunting Kepler telescope. The 715 new planets orbit 305 stars in multi-planet systems like our own, and 94% of them are smaller than Neptune. NASA says it has found a process to verify in bulk many of the thousands of "planetary candidates" Kepler has spotted. "We've been able to open the bottleneck to access the mother lode and deliver to you more than 20 times as many planets as have ever been found and announced at once," one of the agency's lead researchers says.
Four of the new planets are a little more than twice the size of Earth and lie in their star's "habitable zone," where life-giving liquid water is possible, NASA says. "I'm super excited about this," a planetary scientist at MIT tells the Los Angeles Times, noting that many of the new planets are clustered in small orbits unlike our own relatively spaced-out solar system, and the new finds include planets like mini-Neptunes that have no parallel around our sun. A list of the confirmed planets can be seen at the Kepler mission site. (Read more NASA stories.)