NASA’s Kepler mission, which aims to discover Earth-sized planets around other stars near earth, discovered 11 new planetary systems with 26 confirmed planets, NASA said Thursday.

The discovery almost doubles the number of verified Kepler planets and triples the number of stars known to have more than one planet that passes in front of its host star, NASA said in a released statement.

The planets’ sizes range from 1.5 times the size of earth to larger than Jupiter, the agency said.

“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky," said Doug Hudgins, a Kepler program scientist at NASA in Washington said in a released statement.

"Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”

Each system contains two to five closely spaced transiting planets, NASA says.

Faster Method of Identification

NASA says Kepler identifies planet candidates by repeatedly measuring the change in brightness of more than 150,000 stars to detect when a planet passes in front of the star. That passage casts a small shadow toward Earth and the Kepler spacecraft.

Kepler detects acceleration or deceleration of some planets along their orbit. It then detects the changes in orbital periods, called Transit Timing Variations.

This method requires less extensive ground-based calculations, NASA says. It also allows Kepler to confirm planetary systems around fainter and more distant starts.


VIDEO BELOW: Kepler's Planetary Systems in Motion: The animation shows an overhead view of the orbital position of the planets in systems with multiple transiting planets discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. All the colored planets have been verified. More vivid colors indicate planets that have been confirmed by their gravitational interactions with each other or the star. Several of these systems contain additional planet candidates (shown in grey) that have not yet been verified.