The long-awaited initial discoveries from the 600M Kepler mission are in!
At a scientific talk at the AAS Meeting in Washington DC this morning, and in an afternoon press briefing packed with journalists, bright lights and television cameras, the Kepler Team announced the discovery of five new transiting planets. Four are inflated hot Jupiters, and one is a hot Neptune reminiscent of Gliese 436b and HAT-P-11b. Most importantly, the Kepler satellite appears by all accounts to be performing beautifully as it continuously monitors over 150,000 stars for planetary transits.
Here’s a to-scale line-up of the Kepler starting five. Kepler-4b is so small that it’s just barely resolved at a scale where its orbit spans 480 pixels.
The Kepler planets are primarily orbiting high-metallicity, slightly inflated, slightly evolved stars. These particular parent stars were likely selected for high-priority confirmation observations because their abundant, narrow spectral lines should permit maximally efficient, cost-effective Doppler-velocity follow-up.
Among the planets, Kepler-4b, with its composition that’s likely largely water-based, provides further evidence that the majority of short-period planets formed far from their parent stars, beyond the iceline in the protostellar disk, and subsequently migrated inward. Kepler-7b is approximately the density of styrofoam. In a conversation with ...