“Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized.”

The Irish Times has a detailed report noting the confirmed discovery of 6 large exo-planets closely orbiting a star in the system, Kepler-11, approximately 2,000 light years from Earth.

Even more remarkable are reports that the Kepler space observatory, launched in March 2009, first light in April 2009, has now identified 1,235 planetary candidates – and 54 candidates within the habitable zone – from the data for 156,453 stars observed from the beginning of the science observations on 2 May through 16 September 2009.

From the Nasa press release

The discoveries are part of several hundred new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to-date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are super-Earth-size; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter. Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from super-Earth size — up to twice the size of Earth — to larger than Jupiter.

The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009, of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler’s field of view, which covers approximately 1/400 of the sky.

“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,” said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission’s science principal investigator. “We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water.”

And here’s an overview of the Kepler mission from the scientists involved.

And a reminder of a quote from one of Those [Royal Society] Guys, Isaac Newton contemporary, and long-term rival, Robert Hooke.  From the preface to his 1665 publication Micrographia

‘Tis not unlikely, but that there may be yet invented several other helps for the eye, as much exceeding those already found, as those do the bare eye, such as we may perhaps be able to discover living Creatures in the Moon, or other Planets, the figures of the compounding Particles of matter, and the particular Schematisms and Textures of Bodies.

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