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NASA drops insane map of 4000 planets discovered outside our solar system

CNET logo CNET 11/07/2019 Eric Mack
a sunset over some water: NASA believes exoplanets like TRAPPIST-1f could have the right conditions for liquid water, meaning they could support life.  © NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA believes exoplanets like TRAPPIST-1f could have the right conditions for liquid water, meaning they could support life. 

It seems insane now, but it wasn't long ago we had no hard evidence of planets existing outside our solar system. Known as "exoplanets", the first definitive discovery of one didn't come until 1992. For many years after that, a trickle of distant worlds were added to the known exoplanet catalog. 

Only in the last decade, with the help of the recently retired Kepler Space Telescope, has the pace of discovery really increased exponentially. In June, the 4,000th exoplanet was confirmed. 

Requiem for Kepler? NASA's pioneering planet-finder (pictures)

Since its 2009 launch, NASA's Kepler space telescope has chalked up an impressive list of firsts and logged a tidy tally of newly discovered exoplanets (planets outside our solar system): 132 confirmed, plus another 2,740 unconfirmed "candidates." Perhaps most impressive, the craft has helped make a household notion of the idea that there may in fact be oodles of Earth-like, potentially life-supporting planets tucked among the many stars of the Milky Way. With NASA announcing this week that an equipment malfunction might mean an end to Kepler's mission, we thought we'd pay homage to the craft and take a look back at its life and work. The image above is an artist's rendition of Kepler on the job, gazing intently into the cosmos. Click through the rest of the slideshow to refresh your memory of the mission, watch the craft come into being, and check out some of Kepler's mind-expanding, and imagination-fueling, discoveries.

Since its 2009 launch, NASA's Kepler space telescope has chalked up an impressive list of firsts and logged a tidy tally of newly discovered exoplanets (planets outside our solar system): 132 confirmed, plus another 2,740 unconfirmed "candidates." Perhaps most impressive, the craft has helped make a household notion of the idea that there may in fact be oodles of Earth-like, potentially life-supporting planets tucked among the many stars of the Milky Way. With NASA announcing this week that an equipment malfunction might mean an end to Kepler's mission, we thought we'd pay homage to the craft and take a look back at its life and work. The image above is an artist's rendition of Kepler on the job, gazing intently into the cosmos. Click through the rest of the slideshow to refresh your memory of the mission, watch the craft come into being, and check out some of Kepler's mind-expanding, and imagination-fueling, discoveries.
© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc.

That's a big leap in a single lifetime, and to mark just how far we've come in refining our view of the universe, NASA created the above video visualizing when and where in the night sky all the known exoplanets were discovered. Note how quickly the pace of the finds picks up once Kepler starts making its contribution in 2010. 

Kepler went to sleep permanently in 2018, but its legacy has been picked up by other observatories like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which has already found over 700 new planet candidates in its first year in space.

Next up, the European Characterizing Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS) is set to launch by the end of the year and NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is set to blast off in 2021. Both space telescopes will be able to do more than just spot exoplanets -- they could help determine if conditions exist to support life upon their surfaces. 

Best places in space to search for alien life

a close up of a sign: The deeper we look into space, the more places we come across that seem like maybe, just maybe, could host life. From our neighboring planets to distant galaxies sending out weird signals, the list of spots in space worth checking out just continues to grow. The closest world we should check for signs of life is one we've already been to, or at least our robots have . There's increasing evidence that Mars was once a lot more like Earth , with oceans on its surface. Today it's more harsh, but it's not out of the question that we could find some sort of microbes in Martian soil.

The deeper we look into space, the more places we come across that seem like maybe, just maybe, could host life. From our neighboring planets to distant galaxies sending out weird signals, the list of spots in space worth checking out just continues to grow. The closest world we should check for signs of life is one we've already been to, or at least our robots have . There's increasing evidence that Mars was once a lot more like Earth , with oceans on its surface. Today it's more harsh, but it's not out of the question that we could find some sort of microbes in Martian soil.
© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc.

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