NASA: Kepler has discovered (at least) 1,284 new planets

NASA has unleashed some big news today: out of thousands of potential new planets spotted by the Kepler space telescope, 1,284 of them have been verified as new planets, and that could just be the start of things. It all started with Kepler's July 2015 catalog of potential planets — there were 4,302 of them in total. Following an analysis, NASA determined that 1,284 of them are probably planets (greater than 99-percent odds), and that another 1,327 potential planets may be added to the 'verified planets' list after additional analyses are wrapped up.

The announcement represents a major increase in the number of confirmed planets spotted by Kepler, more than doubling the previous number. It also greatly increases the odds of researchers one day discovering a planet that is very much like our own and, hopefully, leading us to another planet with life.

"Thanks to Kepler...we now know there could be more planets than stars."

Of the 1,327 potential planets mentioned above, NASA says they will undergo "additional study" to determine whether they are planets, as they do not meet the 99-percent threshold to get verified status. Finally, the remaining 707 candidates spotted by Kepler are said to likely be one kind or another of 'astrophysical phenomena.'

How did the space agency verify so many planet candidates so quickly? This time around, NASA says its team used an unspecified statistical analysis method that considers more than one planet at a time. Each candidate was assigned a probability percentage based on this method, and the ones that scored at least 99-percent were given 'verified' status, as the odds of them turning out as something other than planets are very, very slim.

This is said to be the first automated computation process able to handle this scale of planet candidates simultaneously.

Said NASA's Astrophysics Division's director Paul Hertz:

Before the Kepler space telescope launched, we did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy. Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars. This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever-closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe.