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 its own National Science Foundation and NASA-funded study - scanning the areas around 300 stars - in 1987. …