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Space telescope finds never-seen 'weird stuff'

Monday morning at an astronomy meeting in Washington, the lead scientist for a new NASA space telescope announced the discovery of five more "exoplanets" far beyond our own solar system and expressed optimism that his team is on a path to finding an Earth-size planet in an Earth-like orbit in the near future.

But the new trove of data from the telescope named Kepler has also turned up space oddities that make astronomers wonder what exactly they're looking at.

For example, Kepler found a star with a small orbiting object that is hotter than the star itself. The object is too hot — about 26,000 degrees — to be a planet but is the wrong size and density to fit any known profile for a dwarf star.

One of the five planets announced by William Borucki, the top scientist for the telescope, is so fluffy that "it has the density of Styrofoam," he said.

Kepler was launched last March and was designed to look at more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy in the constellation Cygnus.

Borucki announced results from the first 43 days of Kepler data, with eight months of data yet to be analyzed. Borucki said about 100 candidate planets are being studied.

Alan Boss, an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said Kepler is finding things that no one has ever seen before.

"They're going to find all kinds of weird stuff," Boss said. "The universe, it really is a weird place. It's fantastic."

Space telescope finds never-seen 'weird stuff' 01/04/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 4, 2010 11:11pm]
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