By Dave Mosher

NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)

An illustration of Earth-like planets.

  • NASA’s has detected 219 possible new planets.
  • About 10 of these new worlds may be Earth-sized and habitable.
  • The Kepler space telescope that discovered the new planets has so far found more than 4,000 worlds.
  • The results suggest that there may be billions of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy.

NASA scientists on Monday announced the discovery of 219 new objects beyond our solar system that are almost certainly planets.

What’s more, 10 of these worlds may be rocky, about the size of Earth, and habitable.

The data comes from the space agency’s long-running Kepler exoplanet-hunting mission. From March 2009 through May 2013, Kepler stared down about 145,000 sun-like stars in a tiny section of the night sky near the constellation Cygnus.

Most of the stars in Kepler’s view were hundreds or thousands of light-years away, so there’s little chance humans will ever visit them — or at least any time soon. However, the data could tell astronomers how common Earth-like planets are, and what the chances of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life might be.

“We have taken our telescope and we have counted up how many planets are similar to the Earth in this part of the sky,” Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist at the SETI Institute, said during a press conference at NASA Ames Research Center on Monday.

“We said, ‘how many planets there are similar to Earth?’ With the data I have, I can now make that count,” she said. “We’re going to determine how common other planets are. Are there other places we could live in the galaxy that we don’t yet call home?”

Added to Kepler’s previous discoveries, the 10 new Earth-like planet candidates make 49 total, Thompson said. If any of them have stable atmospheres, there’s even a chance they could harbor alien life.

The new Earths next door?

Scientists wouldn’t say too much about the 10 new planets, only that they appear to be roughly Earth-sized and orbit in their stars’ “habitable zone” — where water is likely to be