NASA's Kepler spacecraft hunting for Earth-like planets around other stars has found 706 candidates for potential alien worlds while gazing at more than 156,000 stars packed into a single patch of the sky.
If all 706 of these objects pass the stringent follow-up tests to determine if they are actually planets, and not false alarms, they could nearly triple the current number of known extrasolar planets. They were announced as part of a huge release of data from the mission's first 43 days by NASA's Kepler science team this week.
The Kepler space observatory monitors stars for subtle changes in their brightness, which could indicate the presence of alien planets passing in front of them as seen from Earth. Astronomers will use the newly-released data from Kepler to determine if orbiting planets are responsible for the variation in brightness of several hundred stars.