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1/4/2010
01:57 PM
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NASA Discovers Five New Planets

Kepler space telescope gets closer look at new celestial bodies.

An orbiting space telescope launched earlier this year by NASA has spotted five new planets that range in size from about the diameter of Neptune to that of Jupiter—the largest planet in Earth's solar system.

The so-callled exoplanets are located in distant parts of space, and orbit stars that are hotter and larger than the Sun.

ET fans shouldn't expect anyone from the new planets to phone home. Temperatures on the newly found bodies range from 2,200 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, far too hot to support any form of life known to science. Their orbits range from 3.3 to 4.9 days.

NASA said the discoveries validate the Kepler space telescope mission.

"These observations contribute to our understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve from the gas and dust disks that give rise to both the stars and their planets," said William Borucki, the mission's principal science investigator, in a statement.

NASA dubbed the planets Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b, and 8b. "It's gratifying to see the first Kepler discoveries rolling off the assembly line," said Jon Morse, director of NASA's Astrophysics division, in a statement.

Kepler was launched March 6 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will spend the next three years hunting for Earth's sister planets. The telescope will improve its chances by focusing on planets that are similar to Earth in size and are located at a distance from their sun that would permit the existence of water.

Kepler last year discovered HAT-P-7, another exoplanet that's about 1,000 light years from Earth.

Kepler does not provide visual views of the planets it finds. Rather, it detects their existence by tracking dips in the brightness of stars—which occur when an orbiting planet travels across the face of its sun.

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