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MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's Kepler space telescope, designed to
find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars, has
discovered its first five new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar

Kepler's high sensitivity to both small and large planets enabled the
discovery of the exoplanets, named Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b. The
discoveries were announced Monday, Jan. 4, by the members of the
Kepler science team during a news briefing at the American
Astronomical Society meeting in Washington.

"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 William Borucki of NASA's
Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Borucki is the
mission's science principal investigator. "The discoveries also show
that our science instrument is working well. Indications are that
Kepler will meet all its science goals."

Known as "hot Jupiters" because of their high masses and extreme
temperatures, the new exoplanets range in size from similar to
Neptune to larger than Jupiter. They have orbits ranging from 3.3 to
4.9 days. Estimated temperatures of the planets range from 2,200 to
3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than molten lava and much too hot
for life as we know it. All five of the exoplanets orbit stars hotter
and larger than Earth's sun.

"It's gratifying to see the first Kepler discoveries rolling off the
assembly line," said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division
at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "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."

Launched on March 6, 2009, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in
Florida, the Kepler mission continuously and simultaneously observes
more than 150,000 stars. Kepler's science instrument, or photometer,
already has measured hundreds of possible planet signatures that are
being analyzed.

While many of these signatures are likely to be something other than a
planet, such as small stars orbiting larger stars, ground-based
observatories have confirmed the existence of the five exoplanets.
The discoveries are based on approximately six weeks' worth of data
collected since science operations began on May 12, 2009.

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.

Kepler will continue science operations 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. 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.

According to Borucki, Kepler's continuous and long-duration search
should greatly improve scientists' ability to determine the
distributions of planet size and orbital period in the future.
"Today's discoveries are a significant contribution to that goal,"
Borucki said. "The Kepler observations will tell us whether there are
many stars with planets that could harbor life, or whether we might
be alone in our galaxy."

Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery mission. Ames is responsible for the
ground system development, mission operations and science data
analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.,
managed the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies
Corp. of Boulder, Colo., was responsible for developing the Kepler
flight system. Ball and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space
Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder are supporting
mission operations.

Ground observations necessary to confirm the discoveries were
conducted with ground-based telescopes the Keck I in Hawaii;
Hobby-Ebberly and Harlan J. Smith 2.7m in Texas; Hale and Shane in
California; WIYN, MMT and Tillinghast in Arizona; and Nordic Optical
in the Canary Islands, Spain.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:


Source: NASA

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