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NASA Discovers 715 New Planets Outside of Solar System

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NASA called it a 'galactic bonanza' Wednesday as they announced the discovery of 715 planets outside of our solar system. This nearly doubled the previous total number of known planets, making it a monumental announcement.

"It's a great reminder that there are a lot of planets out there," said Richard Grigg, a computer engineer at NASA IV & V in Fairmont, who previously worked on the Kepler Mission that discovered the planets. "And it's a great encouragement to a lot of people that are looking. We still got a lot of Kepler data to go through."

The project was launched in March of 2009, but even before then, there were years of 
research.

"There's a lot of planning that go into it," said Jeff Northey of NASA Strategic Communications. "Scientists and engineers team together to figure out how can we build a spacecraft, how can we get the right instruments on it, how can we get it where it needs to be to gather the data."

The intent was to find planets similar to Earth in an area that may be able to support liquid water. It used statistical probabilities to find which stars may possess multiple planets to narrow down the search.

"Twenty years ago, we didn't have any information about the number of planets surrounding stars," said Loren Anderson, an assistant professor of physics at West Virginia University. "What this release points to is that planets surrounding stars are actually common in the universe. And now the question is moving towards how many of those planets discovered are actually the type that would support life."

In order to determine which stars may have planets, the Keppler satellite measures the brightness of stars. As an object such as a planet passes in front of the star, its brightness decreases. This provides an indication to scientists that there may be a planet there.

Grigg said that the next step is to determine which of those planets may be conducive to human life.

"We can look closer at those planets and see what materials, what elements and 
minerals are on those planets so we'd know what we'd need to take with us to another 
planet."