Kepler Planet Hunter delivers the goods … its amazing.

The news is all over the place, so I’d be surprised if you don’t know, But Kepler, NASA’s planet hunting satellite, has a vast river of new information flowing from it … as reported in the New York Times science section …

In a long-awaited announcement, scientists operating NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting satellite reported Wednesday that they had identified 1,235 possible planets orbiting other stars, potentially tripling the number of known planets in the universe.

But the really mind blowing part is that among those 1,235 we have 68 Earth sized planets, and 54 of those are in the so-called habitable zones where temperatures should be moderate enough for liquid water. So at a stroke today we have gone from one possibly earth-likeish planet (that might or might not be there) to 54.

OK, a sanity warning, these are “candidates” only, there is years of work ahead and a lot more study to do. Not all will be real, but it is believed to be about 80-95% accurate.

Now what is also interesting is the extrapolations that can be done. Since they have only completed a survey of one four-hundredth of the sky, and the results are all within 3,000 light-years, then that implies we have about 54 x 400 earth-like planets within 3,000 light years … thats a total of 21,600. But then since they have a total of 1,235 possible planets orbiting other stars, extrapolating that gives us the staggering potential number of 494,000 planets within 3,000 light years.

This is truly amazing, so expect lots of press about all this. Its way beyond the, “Oh thats interesting” category, and instead truly falls right into the “Wow” category.

To ensure you get the facts right, you should read the paper that has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal describing these new results, <no sign of it yet, I’ll put the link here when I find it and update this posting>.

The great article in the New York Times about all this can be found here. Its well worth reading, they also tell you about a separate announcement that is to be published in Nature on Thursday, where a group of Kepler astronomers led by Jack Lissauer of Ames said they had found a star with six planets — the most Kepler has yet found around one star — orbiting in close ranks in the same plane, no farther from their star than Mercury is from the Sun.

This dense packing, Dr. Lissauer said, seems to violate all the rules astronomers thought they had begun to discern about how planetary systems form and evolve.

“This is sending me back to the drawing board,” he said.

UPDATE: Phil Plait has done a quick calc and worked out that this Keplar data means that there could be about 1,000,000 earth like planets in our Galaxy alone. (see His blog is here) …  but with over 100 Billion Galaxies out there, the number of earth-like planets is a staggeringly large number.

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