Kepler Telescope Spies Its First 5 Exoplanets, Including "Styrofoam" World

By Andrew Moseman | January 5, 2010 10:56 am

KeplerNASA’s new eye in the sky has spotted the first handful of what it hopes will be a flood of new exoplanets. The Kepler telescope, launched last year with the express purpose of planet-hunting, has found its first five new worlds, with the results forthcoming in the journal Science this week. Just don’t get any ideas about living on any of them.

“One of the planets is amazingly light – like Styrofoam,” said William J. Borucki, the astronomer from NASA’s Ames Research Center…. “And all five simply glow,” he said, “they’re like looking into a blast furnace – but that’s simply no place to look for life” [San Francisco Chronicle]. The scalding-hot planets measure in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than molten lava. These planets all orbit their stars in a hurry, taking between three and five days to make a circuit. Ground measurements confirmed Kepler’s findings.

Four of the five exoplanets—including Styrofoam world—are mysteriously light; they’re far less dense than Jupiter despite being 40 percent larger, as you can see in the chart. “This is accumulating evidence that low density is a common feature” among exoplanets, says planetary physicist David Stevenson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who was not involved in the research. The problem is that no one has come up with a mechanism that could puff up an exoplanet that way [ScienceNOW Daily News].

Kepler’s first foray found more than just new planets. It also measured the light from 43,000 stars like our sun in its field of view and found two-thirds of them to be about as stable as the sun. That seemingly obscure observation suggests that the majority of stars potentially are as hospitable to life as Earth’s sun, assuming there was an Earth-like planet orbiting at the right distance from the star [Christian Science Monitor].

Related Content:
80beats: New Super-Earth: Hot, Watery, and Nearby
80beats: Meet the New Neighbors: Earth-Like Worlds Orbiting Nearby Stars
80beats: Don’t Pack Your Bags Yet—New Planet-Finder Hobbled By Electronic Glitch
80beats: Kepler Sends Postcards Home: It’s Beautiful Out Here
DISCOVER: How Long Until We Find a Second Earth?
Bad Astronomy: Kepler Works!

Image: NASA

  • Martha Jackson

    I always get excited when new planets are discovered :)

  • Chrysoprase

    Every exoplanet I read about makes me wonder at the variety of the universe even more. This is an amazing time to be alive :)

  • Nick

    The myopicity (sue me, there’s no real word for what I’m trying to express) of some scientists really stuns me.

    “they’re like looking into a blast furnace – but that’s simply no place to look for life”

    Right – except for the blast-furnace-like sulphur vents on the bottom of our sea floor – that simply looked like no place to look for life – until we looked and found them teeming with life.

    Do not doubt the wonders of the universe, do not doubt the tenacity for life to appear wherever it may.

    For all we know, there are ‘lifeforms’ made out of plasmas living deep within our own star. Very unlikely as we currently know things – but considering our own lifeforms are animated but nothing more than electricity (having a perfect brain with no electrical activity in it means a worthless brain) it is a distinct, far-fetched, possibility.

  • My Opia

    My first visit to the styrofoam planet was in 1988. I was unloading a Swiss colony truck during the holidays for UPS. High on the sugar from a fruitcake I broke into, I slipped and smacked my head into the side of the truck. When I awoke I was in the midst of a great and bloody battle. Gumdrops and bubble wrap were fighting legions of pink styro peanuts for control of the Colony. Were it not for the sacrifices made by the outmatched chocolate santas, I wouldn’t be here today!

  • Sandra

    That’s so cool! I’m glad that we’re out there exploring still, I just didn’t know that we had a new telescope up there to see more stuff! That’s great I’ll be looking more into this.

  • Mandy

    Wow… Great new discovery im so excited on that planet.. thanks for sharing i enjoyed.

  • Katie

    we think it’s reasonable that advanced, intelligent civilizations would most likely be found around these [K-class] stars.

  • Jackie

    I think NASA is doing an extraordinary job. They are discovering new planets and trying to find any life sign there. Really amazing!

  • Monica

    Its great achievement; well People are getting so excited after Google made the whole world aware about the Hubble Telescope.

  • Molly

    we think it’s reasonable that advanced, intelligent civilizations would most likely be found around these [K-class] stars. thanx for sharing.

  • Personal Trainer San Diego

    Incredible achievement. A styrofoam world — who ever would’ve thought?

  • jd

    k planets sure look like hypo-stars, on Slim Fast.

  • Kristi

    The universe is amazing, we are smaller than we think.

  • Juegos

    @ Chrysoprase

    I agree with you completely, this is an amazing time to be alive but… imagine the day when we will find life out there. :-)

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