NASA Mission Uncovers Two Planets Transiting the Same Star

Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

A NASA spacecraft has discovered the first planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of the same star.  The finding is the first confirmed planetary system of its kind.

The spacecraft took data over a seven month period, and found that at least two planets were found orbiting Kepler-9.  Kepler-9 is a star much like the Earth’s sun.  The finding was part of a period of study that collected data from more than 156,000 stars as the efforts to find other Earth-sized planets continues.

Originally, scientists for the mission submitted over 700 planet candidates from just the first 43 days of the Kepler mission.  The data included an additional five planetary system candidates, and recently the team identified a sixth candidate, though more data needs to be accumulated before a conclusion can be reached.

The two planets have been named Kepler-9b and Kepler-9c.  Data shows that Kepler-9b is the larger of the planets and is the closest to the star.  Both planets were found to have masses slightly less than the mass of Saturn.  Kepler-9b orbits the star in roughly 19 days, while Kepler-9c takes 38 days to complete an orbit. 

Scientists have also identified a third mass, which may be another planet.  The potential planet is roughly 1.5 times the size of Earth and takes less than two days to complete an orbit around the Kepler-9 star.  Scientists have said that additional observations are needed to confirm that the object is a planet and not just an astronomical phenomenon.

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