NASA’s Kepler space telescope discovers huge alien planet

NASA’s Kepler space telescope has discovered the first alien planet since its malfunction in May 2013.

Researchers announced that the newly discovered world is HIP 116454b, a “super Earth” approximately 20,000 miles wide and 2.5 times larger than our planet. The planet’s density suggests that it is either a water world or a “mini Neptune” with a thick atmosphere.

HIP 116454b is 8.4 million miles (13.5 million km) from its host star. Its host star is an ”orange dwarf” which is smaller in size and cooler the sun. It completes one orbit every 9.1 days.

According to researchers, the close-orbiting planet is too hot to host life as we know it.

It is 180 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Pisces.

Study lead author Andrew Vanderburg, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), said in a statement:

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries,”

Adding:

“Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies.” [Gallery: A World of Kepler Planets]

In March 2009 Kepler was launched on a 3.5 year mission to monitor Earth-like planets that are located around the Milky Way galaxy. It has proved to be an incredibly successful mission and has identified almost 1,000 confirmed planets, in addition to 3,200 other “candidates”.

The Kepler uses the “transit method” when finding new planets. This involves looking for tiny, telltale dips in a star’s brightness caused when a planet crosses (or transits) the star’s face, blocking some of its light.

“HIP 116454b will be a top target for telescopes on the ground and in space,” said study co-author John Johnson, of Harvard University and the CfA.

The new study will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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