The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is now monitoring more than 5,000 "exoplanets" outside of our solar system after discovering more than 65 this year alone, the agency said.
"Not so long ago, humanity lived in a universe with only a small number of known planets, all of them orbiting our sun," the agency said in a March 21 press release. "But a new raft of discoveries marks a scientific high point: More than 5,000 planets are now confirmed to exist beyond our solar system."
NASA said it added officially 65 new worlds in a batch March 21, confirmed the discoveries from peer-reviewed scientific papers, and then confirmed them using "multiple detection methods," or analytical techniques.
The new group pushed the number of discoveries past 5,000 since the first exoplanet was found during the 1990s.
"It's not just a number," Jessie Christiansen, science lead for the archive and a research scientist with the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech in Pasadena said in the release. "Each one of them is a new world, a brand-new planet. I get excited about everyone (of them) because we don't know anything about them."
NASA defines "exoplanets" as "worlds orbiting other stars," that vary from small, rocky planets similar to Earth and Mars, to huge Jupiter-sized gas giants and were first discovered in 1992.
The agency estimates our Milky Way Galaxy to hold "billions" of these planets with some orbiting stars, and others orbiting either multiple stars, or a dead star, and yet other "sunless rouges" seem to simply meander around the galaxy.
It is estimated that our galaxy is home to about 400 billion stars, including our sun, each including its own system of planets, bringing the totals into the trillions, according to the agency.
The discovery of the new worlds, which the agency expects will increase with the deployment of greater technology like the recently launched James Webb Telescope, and the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope, set to launch in 2029, may help find planets that are habitable like Earth, or already inhabited.
"To my thinking, it is inevitable that we'll find some kind of life somewhere – most likely of some primitive kind," Penn State professor and lead author on the paper that, 30 years ago, unveiled the first planets to be confirmed outside our solar system, Alexander Wolszczan said in the NASA release. "If you can find planets around a neutron star, planets have to be basically everywhere. The planet production process has to be very robust."
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