Our galactic neighborhood just got a lot bigger.
NASA announced the discovery of 715 new planets, by far the biggest batch of planets ever unveiled at once.
By way of comparison, about 1,000 planets total had been identified in our galaxy before Wednesday.
— NASA (@NASA) February 26, 2014
Four of those planets are in what NASA calls the “habitable zone,” meaning they have the makeup to potentially support life.
The planets, which orbit 305 different stars, were discovered by the Kepler space telescope and were verified using a new technique that scientists expect to make new planetary discoveries more frequent and more detailed.
“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 has ever been found and announced at once,” said Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.
Launched in March 2009, the Kepler space observatory was the first NASA mission to find planets similar to Earth that are in, or near, habitable zones — defined as planets that are the right distance from a star for a moderate temperature that might sustain liquid water.