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Edge-on view of Kepler-11 planetary system

Planet sizesCredit: NASA/Tim Pyle

NASA’s Kepler mission, a space observatory designed to detect and study extrasolar planets that transit across the disk of their host star, has hit the jackpot with the discovery of a six-planet system orbiting a Sun-like star now named Kepler-11. Five of the planets have orbital periods of between 10 and 47 days, and these are among the smallest for which size and mass have both been measured. The sixth and outermost transiting planet has been less well characterized thus far. Only one other star has more than one confirmed transiting planet (Kepler-9, which has three). This newly discovered system resembles our own Solar System in being close to coplanar, but Kepler-11’s planets orbit much closer to their star. Kepler is due to continue to return data on Kepler-11 and its planets for some time yet, and it should provide many valuable constraints on models of the formation and evolution of solar systems in general.

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