What's the Latest Development?
Of the 1,235 candidate planets N.A.S.A.'s Kepler space telescope has recently discovered, 408 reside in multiple-planet systems, suggesting that our own configuration of multiple worlds orbiting a single star isn't so special. "What may be special, however, is the orientation of our solar system's planets. Some of them are tilted significantly off the solar system's plane, while most of the Kepler systems are nearly as flat as a tabletop, researchers said. ... The 1,235 candidate planets detected so far still need to be confirmed by follow-up studies, though researchers estimate at least 80 percent of them will pan out."
What's the Big Idea?
The discovery of so many alien worlds is yet another big find in our increasing capacity to look beyond our Earth. Nearly one-third of the Kepler candidates are part of multiple-planet solar systems, which came as a surprise to researchers. "'We didn't anticipate that we would find so many multiple-transit systems,' said astronomer David Latham, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement. 'We thought we might see two or three. Instead, we found more than 100. ... As Kepler continues to gather data, it will be able to spot planets with wider orbits, including some in the habitable zones of their stars."