Byline: Sean Salai, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Scientists at NASA's Washington headquarters announced yesterday that an international team of astronomers has located 15 new planets beyond Earth's solar system - and, for the first time, what they see looks familiar.
"Today we are announcing the discovery of a planet [with] a mass a little bit more than our Jupiter and that resides in a very similar orbit," said Geoff Marcy, an astronomy professor at University of California at Berkeley and co-leader of the mission with partner Paul Butler. The two astronomers form the world's premier planet-hunting team.
The Jupiterlike planet is orbiting a star much like our sun, located in the constellation Cancer, which was already known to have one planet in orbit. The new planet is about as old - about 5 billion years - as the sun.
Distances between stars are measured in astronomical units (AU), with one unit representing the 93-million-mile distance between Earth and the sun. Among the new planets is one believed to be the smallest ever located, with a mass roughly half that of Saturn. It orbits a star in the constellation Auriga at a distance (0.05 AU) nearly one-twentieth of the gap between Earth and the sun.
Cataloging extrasolar planets is a relatively new field. Although the first one was located in 1995 by Swiss astronomers, only 78 had been discovered prior to the finds announced yesterday. Mr. Marcy's team began …