NASA’s Kepler space telescope has discovered five planets located outside of our solar system.
According to NASA, Kepler’s “high sensitivity” enabled the identification of the exoplanets, which have been 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,” explained William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
“The discoveries also show that our science instrument is working well. Indications are that Kepler will meet all its science goals.”
Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, noted that the newly discovered planets are known as “hot Jupiters” due to their high masses and extreme temperatures – which can range from 2,200 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition, preliminary analysis indicates that the Kepler planets have orbits ranging from 3.3 to 4.9 days.
“It’s gratifying to see the first Kepler discoveries rolling off the assembly line,” said Morse. ”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.”
The Kepler space telescope was launched on March 6, 2009, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Kepler’s science instrument, or photometer, has already measured hundreds of possible planet signatures that are being analyzed.
Kepler is slated to operate 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.
However, since transits of planets in the habitable zone of solar-like stars occur about once a year and require three transits for verification, it is expected to take at least three years to locate and verify an Earth-size planet.
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