Kepler space telescope finds 5 hot planets
January 4, 2010
(ChattahBox) — NASA scientists reported Monday the discovery of five extrasolar worlds orbiting nearby stars, using the space agency’s Kepler space telescope. Not bad for it’s first 6 weeks in operation. The “roaster” planets, one larger than Neptune, and four low-density versions of Jupiter, are orbiting extremely close to their stars. Kepler 7b, the least dense planets ever discovered, has the density of styrofoam, at .17 grams per cubic centimeter.
All of the planets bake at temperatures above 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit, and orbit their stars once within every four day’s time because of their closeness. Such close-in planets are the easiest to detect, but Kepler scientists expect to find more Earth-like ones in the next three years. In testing the satellite’s optics, the team has determined it should be able to spot any Earth-sized planet transits with 99.4% certainty, if they are orbiting the stars observed by Kepler, according to the study.
Lead mission scientist William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., and his colleagues announced the findings on January 4 at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. Borucki said in 2010 Kepler will focus on the discovery of smaller planets, with an Earth-sized planet being the “holy grail” of exoplanet discoveries. Launched in March 2009 and expected to last 3.5 years or more, the $591 million Kepler views some 156,000 stars within 3,000 light years of Earth for planets, according to a study in the upcoming Science journal on January 7. Kepler detects planets by recording tiny decreases in starlight whenever one of the orbs transits, or passes across the face of its parent star.