New Planet "Bonanza" Discovered at Center of Milky Way

Blake de Pastino in Washington, D.C.
National Geographic News
October 4, 2006

A "bonanza" of new planets has been found at the heart of our galaxy, NASA astronomers announced today.

Sixteen potential planets have been detected in the region known as the Galactic Bulge, the mass of stars and hot gas at the center of the Milky Way some 26,000 light-years away.

This makes the newfound planets the most distant worlds ever discovered.

Of the 16 newly detected bodies, 7 have been deemed likely planets, with the remaining 9 awaiting confirmation.

If all 16 are confirmed, the find would constitute the largest number of new planets detected in a single observation.

A team of astronomers discovered the planets during a seven-day survey of the constellation Sagittarius using the Hubble Space Telescope in February 2004.

The faraway find has dramatic implications for the ongoing search for other, possibly habitable planets, scientists said. Most notably, the survey reveals that planets are as plentiful around distant stars as they are around stars closer to our solar system.

"We had [already] found all of these planets relatively near the sun. We wanted to know, Are they there all across the galaxy?" said Mario Livio, an astronomer with the Hubble project, at a press conference today at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"The answer was yes, they are there, even at the center of the galaxy. … This allows us to say now with a very high degree of confidence that there are literally billions of planets in our galaxy."

Fastest-Orbiting Planets

The findings include an additional surprise: Five of the new planets orbit their respective stars in just one Earth day or less.

The newfound bodies are the fastest-orbiting planets ever detected and constitute a whole new class of "ultrashort period" planets, the scientists said.

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