So, how small does this make you feel? NASA announced that its Kepler spacecraft has "discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet." That means pretty much one thing: there's still a lot of space we just can't see.
It's rather fitting that it was the Kepler spacecraft that made the discovery, as the craft is named after Johannes Kepler, whose "eponymous laws of planetary motion" are used to approximate the motion of planets around a sun. The spacecraft itself is tasked with rooting out Earth-like planets using a 95-megapixel camera, and has met with quite a bit of success since its launch in 2009.
This latest success is no different: orbiting the Kepler-9 star, NASA has identified two planets, named Kepler-9b and Kepler-9c, that have masses "similar to but less than Saturn" and are the first planets to be identified as "crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star."
There could be a third planet as well, according to NASA:
In addition to the two confirmed giant planets, Kepler scientists also have identified what appears to be a third, much smaller transit signature in the observations of Kepler-9. That signature is consistent with the transits of a super-Earth-sized planet about 1.5 times the radius of Earth in a scorching, near-sun 1.6 day-orbit. Additional observations are required to determine whether this signal is indeed a planet or an astronomical phenomenon that mimics the appearance of a transit.
It'll be interesting to see if NASA's claim of being first to confirm a multi-planet system is disputed, as it comes hot on the heels of an announcement by European astronomers who say they've discovered a sun with seven planets orbiting around it.