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Saturday, December 3, 2011

NASA’s Kepler continues to discover astounding and strange planets - The State Column

NASA's Kepler continues to discover astounding and strange planets

The State Column | | Saturday, December 03, 2011

Exerpt: The space agency says the this year's annual announcement will continue a long tradition that it anticipated to accelerate in the coming years as the Kepler Telescope continues to search for earth-like planets. NASA officials say they expect a number of significant discoveries by Kepler this year.

"Sooner or later, Kepler will find a lukewarm planet with a size making it probably Earthlike," said Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley. "We're no more than a year away" from such a discovery, he said.

The announcement comes as NASA announced Friday the discovery of an earth-sized planet that is reportedly hot enough to melt iron.

The exoplanet, which is known as Kepler-21b, is just 1.6 times bigger than earth, making it a so-called "super Earth." However, the planet orbits so close to its parent star that astronomers say its surface temperature to be about 2,960 degrees Fahrenheit.

The planet reportedly orbits at a distance of six million km – nearly ten times closer than Mercury orbits the sun. The parent star, HD 179070, a little hotter and brighter than the sun, is 352 light years away. Somewhat similar to the sun, the parent star is 2.84 billion years- younger than the sun's 4.6 billion years. Although Kepler-21b is pretty small and very far away, unable to be seen with the naked eye, the parent star can easily be seen with binoculars or a small telescope.


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