In a revelation that may change our understanding of space forever, the American Astronomical Society announced today that five new planets have been discovered orbiting close to their stars. The findings are the work of the $591 million Kepler space telescope which has been scanning some 156,000 stars for planets within 3,000 light years (some 17,700 miles) of Earth.
William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center told reporters that four “roaster" planets, ones larger than Neptune, are orbiting extremely close to their stars. The planets are 1.3 to 1.5 times wider than our own Jupiter, while the last one, nicknamed dubbed Kepler-4b, is only about 0.6 times as wide as Jupiter and weighs only about 8 percent as much.
Kepler detects planets by spotting light-dipping eclipses of stars by their companion planets. When the planets are closer to the stars, they are easier to detect. However, this usually means they are going to be “roasters” like the ones just discovered. These planets orbit their stars once within every four Earth days. And because of they are so close to their stars, they can reach temperatures above 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit.
Kepler scientists hope to find more Earth-like planets in the future. By utilizing the satellite’s optics, the team has determined it will be able to spot any Earth-like planets with 99 percent certainty.
This announcement comes as more than 3,500 astrophysicists, planetary scientists, and science journalists converge on Washington for the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.