NASA's Kepler space telescope, which searches for Earth-like planets in habitable zones beyond our solar system, has found five new exoplanets.
NASA said on Monday that the exoplanets, planets outside of our solar system, are called Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b, and 8b. Finding those planets, NASA says, justifies using Kepler as a means of finding another Earth-like planet. The space agency also said the telescope "will meet all its science goals."
NASA's Kepler mission, which launched on March 6 last year, is designed to observe more than 150,000 stars to find Earth-like planets. NASA said in a statement that although it has announced five discoveries, Kepler has already identified "hundreds of possible planet signatures that are being analyzed." In the end, Kepler's goal is to determine if we really are alone in our galaxy.
The five planets NASA found are being called "hot Jupiters" by scientists and range from the size of Neptune to even larger than Jupiter. Their orbits range from 3.3 days to 4.9 days. They get their "hot" moniker thanks to temperatures ranging from 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, that means that all five planets are too hot for human life.
"It's gratifying to see the first Kepler discoveries rolling off the assembly line," Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. "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."
Kepler is one of NASA's most sophisticated tools for identifying planets. The instrument looks for planets by measuring dips in the brightness of stars. As planets move around their stars, they block starlight, a phenomenon that can therefore be used as an indication of their presence. Kepler will continue searching until at least November 2012. NASA believes it could take at least three years for it to locate and verify an Earth-size planet.