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August 8, 2009

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Kepler finds Jupiter-sized planet

THE orbiting Kepler telescope has spotted a Jupiter-sized planet around another star - a sighting that demonstrates it can see Earth-like planets if they are out there, scientists reported on Thursday.

The planet, called HAT-P-7b, was already among the 300 or so known so-called extrasolar planets, the team led by the United States space agency NASA reported. But measurements of its orbit by Kepler show the telescope will be able to see smaller planets, they reported in the journal Science.

"We think it is likely that Kepler is going to find oodles and oodles of Earths," astrobiologist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington told a news conference.

Boss said that at some point in the future "we'll be able to stand outside ... and say 'Hey kids, look out there see that star? That one has an Earth'."

The team, led by William Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said the telescope not only detected the "hot Jupiter," which orbits close to its sun, but was able to get readings that could give information about its atmosphere.

This ability will help scientists tell whether Earth-like planets have water or oxygen on their surfaces.


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