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Kepler discovers eight new ‘Earth-like’ planets in habitable zones

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NASA’s planet-hunter Kepler has hit yet another jackpot with its efforts of finding new planets has paid off with discovery of eight new planets found to be orbiting their stars in the so-called “Goldilocks zone”, neither too hot nor too cold for water – conditions that are a primary requirement for life to sustain.

“Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets”, notes NASA in a press release. “The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.”

Out of the eight, two are most Earth-like of any known planets found outside of our solar system. Lead author Guillermo Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said that most of these planets have a good change of being rocky.

Scientists used a computer program dubbed BLENDER to determine that they are statistically likely to be planets as the planets were all too small to be confirmed by measuring their masses. The same program “has been used previously to validate some of Kepler’s most iconic finds, including the first two Earth-size planets around a sun-like star and the first exoplanet smaller than Mercury,” NASA said.

The two most Earth-like planets have been named Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b. Both of them are less than 1.5 times the diameter of Earth and while Kepler-438b, which is 475 light-years away, is 12 per cent bigger than Earth the Kepler-442b, which is 1,100 light-years away, is 33 per cent bigger than Earth. Kepler-438b orbits its star once every 35.2 days and Kepler-442b orbits its star once every 112 days.

According to NASA, both Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b orbit stars smaller and cooler than our sun.