All five of the new planets are bigger than Neptune, and four are more than twice the size of Jupiter
Nasa’s new planet-hunting telescope has discovered its first five worlds beyond our Solar System.
Numerous planets have been found before by other telescopes, such as Hubble, but the sole mission of the Kepler observatory – launched last year – has been to find potential ‘Earths’ elsewhere in our galaxy.
Unfortunately life is unlikely to survive on the new planets as they are thought to generate hellish heat. Estimated temperatures of the worlds range from 1,200 to 1,650 degrees Celsius, hotter than molten lava.
The planets, termed exoplanets because they are outside out Solar System, range in size from similar to Neptune to more than twice as large as Jupiter, the largest in the Solar System. They have orbits ranging from 3.3 to 4.9 days.
All five orbit stars that are hotter and larger than Earth’s sun. The discovery of the five worlds called Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b were announced at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
‘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 Kepler’s principal investigator William Borucki.
‘The discoveries also show that our science instrument is working well. Indications are that Kepler will meet all its science goals.’
Launched on March 6, 2009, from Cape Canaveral, the Kepler mission continuously and simultaneously observes more than 150,000 stars.
Kepler’s science instrument, or photometer, has already measured hundreds of possible planet signatures that are being analysed.
Kepler looks for the signatures of planets by measuring dips in the brightness of stars. When planets cross in front of, or transit, their stars as seen from Earth, they periodically block the starlight.
The size of the planet can be derived from the size of the dip. The temperature can be estimated from the characteristics of the star it orbits and the planet’s orbital period.