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Tough Alien Worlds Found In Rich And Dense Star Cluster

27 June, 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - The two new alien worlds smaller than Neptune, orbiting Sun-like stars have been discovered by astronomers who have analyzed data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft.

The planets - Kepler-66b and -67b - located 3,000 light-years from Earth, in the star cluster NGC 6811 - are the smallest planets to be found in a star cluster.

These celestial objects are the first cluster planets seen to transit their host stars, which enables the measurement of their sizes.

The new study shows that small planets can also form and survive for at least a billion years, even in a chaotic and hostile environment like that of rich and dense star clusters,, where strong radiation and harsh stellar winds scour interstellar space, stripping planet-forming materials from nearby stars, scientists say.



"Old clusters represent a stellar environment much different than the birthplace of the Sun and other planet-hosting field stars," says lead author Soren Meibom of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

"And we thought maybe planets couldn't easily form and survive in the stressful environments of dense clusters, in part because for a long time we couldn't find them."

NASA's Kepler spacecraft hunts for planets that transit, or cross in front of, their host stars.

During a transit, the star dims by an amount that depends on the size of the planet, allowing the size to be determined.

Of the more than 850 known planets beyond our solar system, only four - all similar to or greater than Jupiter in mass - were found in clusters.

Kepler-66b and Kepler-67b are both less than three times the size of Earth, or about three-fourths the size of Neptune (mini-Neptunes) and the star cluster NGC 6811 is one billion years, according to measurements.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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Hunt For Distant Planets Continues

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