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Kepler planet-hunting telescope's new discoveries unveiled today

07/23/2015 09:38 EDT | Updated 07/23/2016 05:59 EDT
NASA is causing a buzz after hinting that scientists may have discovered a planet very similar to Earth using the Kepler Space Telescope.

The U.S. space agency is holding a news teleconference at noon Thursday to share the latest results from Kepler, it announced in a media advisory. It will be streamed live on CBCNews.ca.

"Exoplanets, especially small Earth-size worlds, belonged within the realm of science fiction just 21 years ago," the advisory said. "Today, and thousands of discoveries later, astronomers are on the cusp of finding something people have dreamed about for thousands of years — another Earth."

That, along with a teaser image of a blue planet with what appear to be white clouds released on Twitter, has caused many to speculate that NASA may be announcing an Earth-like planet.

Astronomers previously discovered eight or nine of planets similar in size to Earth and in the "Goldilocks" or "habitable" zones of their stars – the region in which the temperature is right for liquid water, and therefore life as we know it, to exist.

The most recent discoveries, made with the Kepler telescope, were announced in January.

However, it's not known whether any of those planets have Earth-like atmospheres, and most orbit near the edges of their star's habitable zone, where average temperatures would be quite hot or cold compared to Earth.

Kepler was launched in 2009 and specifically designed to hunt for planets around distant stars. It looks for a dip in the light from a star as the planet passes in front of it, blocking part of the light. So far, it has found more than 3,000 planet candidates and confirmed more than 1,000 planets.

By May 2013, two of the wheels used to point the telescope at specific places in the sky had stopped working, forcing it to end its hunt.

That hasn't ended the announcement of new planets discovered by the telescope, though, as the data collected earlier is still being analysed.

Kepler is now collecting other kinds of data to help astronomers understand other aspects of astrophysics, such as how planets formed.

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