Wednesday, February 02, 2011

NASA's Kepler Telescope Discovers New Planetary System

Scientists using NASA's Kepler space telescope, have discovered a six planet system, designated Kepler 11, who's planets are made up of a mix of rock and gases. Kepler 11 is a yellow dwarf star, much like our own sun, located about 2,000 light years from Earth. According to the team at NASA's Ames Research Center, Kepler 11 is amazingly compact, amazingly flat and there's an amazingly large number of big planets orbiting close to their star. In other words, Kepler-11 has the fullest, most compact planetary system yet discovered beyond our own!

As much as the Kepler 11 system resembles our own, there are many startling differences. First all the planets are at least twice as large as Earth and stranger still ALL the planets orbit their primary at least twice as close to their primary with the inner most orbiting ten times closer to its star than Earth. Five of the planets of Kepler 11 orbit closer than any planet in our system. Think about that for a second....between Mercury and Sol, squeeze in 5 more planets! Now THAT is compact!

Oh and lets take a look at the science that is going on to detect these planets. First off, unless you have been in a cave for a few years, you understand that Kepler is not resolving the planets directly. Kepler measures the luminosity of a star. When the star's brightness fades, Kepler infers that a planet has passed between it and the star. The more a star fades, the larger the star. So, we are looking at a dwarf yellow star like our own. So it's a fairly dim star and small, plus it 2000 freakin light-years away! You do the math.... So 2000 ly distance away, a speck travels in front of the star, dimming it ever so infinitesimally! Imagine the calibration it takes to do that level of science!

Check out the complete story at Science daily

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