NASA's Kepler space telescope discovers 5 earth-like exoplanets

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Washington, January 5 (ANI): NASA's Kepler space telescope has discovered its first five new Earth-like exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

Kepler's high sensitivity to both small and large planets enabled the discovery of the exoplanets, named Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b.

"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 of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who is the mission's science principal investigator.

"The discoveries also show that our science instrument is working well. Indications are that Kepler will meet all its science goals," he added.

Known as "hot Jupiters" because of their high masses and extreme temperatures, the new exoplanets range in size from similar to Neptune to larger than Jupiter.

They have orbits ranging from 3.3 to 4.9 days.

Estimated temperatures of the planets range from 2,200 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than molten lava and much too hot for life as we know it.

All five of the exoplanets orbit stars hotter and larger than Earth's sun.

"It's gratifying to see the first Kepler discoveries rolling off the assembly line," said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"We expected Jupiter-size planets in short orbits to be the first planets Kepler could detect. It's only a matter of time before more Kepler observations lead to smaller planets with longer period orbits, coming closer and closer to the discovery of the first Earth analog," he added.

Kepler will continue science operations until at least November 2012.

It will search for planets as small as Earth, including those that orbit stars in a warm habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface of the planet.

According to Borucki, Kepler's continuous and long-duration search should greatly improve scientists' ability to determine the distributions of planet size and orbital period in the future.

"Today's discoveries are a significant contribution to that goal," Borucki said.

"The Kepler observations will tell us whether there are many stars with planets that could harbor life, or whether we might be alone in our galaxy," he added. (ANI)

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