Melbourne: Scientists involved in NASA's Kepler Mission have reportedly discovered more than 700 new planets - including up to 140 similar in size to Earth - in just six weeks of using the powerful new space observatory.
Early results from NASA's Kepler Mission, a small satellite observing deep space, has suggested planets like Earth are far more widespread than previously thought.
Past discoveries suggested most planets outside our solar system were gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn - but the new evidence tipped the balance in favour of solid worlds.
Astronomers said the discovery has increased the chances of eventually finding truly Earth-like planets capable of sustaining life.
However, NASA has formally announced only five new exoplanets - those outside our solar system - from the mission because its scientists are still analysing the findings to confirm they are actually planets or not.
"The figures suggest our galaxy, the Milky Way (which has more than 100 billion stars) will contain 100 million habitable planets and soon we will be identifying the first of them," News.com.au quoted Dimitar Sasselov, a scientist on the Kepler Mission, as saying.
"There is a lot more work we need to do with this, but the statistical result is loud and clear and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there," he added.
First Published: Monday, July 26, 2010, 20:07