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Scientist Discover 5th Planet

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  • Royce Holleman
    Nov. 6, 2007 Grey Hautaluoma Headquarters, Washington 202-358-0668 grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov DC Agle Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2007
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      Nov. 6, 2007

      Grey Hautaluoma
      Headquarters, Washington
      grey.hautaluoma-1@... grey.hautaluoma-1@...

      DC Agle
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      agle@... agle@...

      Denize Springer
      San Francisco State University, Calif.
      denize@... denize@...

      Bob Sanders
      University of California, Berkeley

      WASHINGTON - Astronomers have announced the discovery of a fifth
      planet circling 55 Cancri, a star beyond our solar system. The star
      now holds the record for number of confirmed extrasolar planets
      orbiting around it in a planetary system.

      55 Cancri is located 41 light-years away in the constellation Cancer
      and has nearly the same mass and age as our sun. It is easily visible
      with binoculars. Researchers discovered the fifth planet using the
      Doppler technique, in which a planet's gravitational tug is detected
      by the wobble it produces in the parent star. NASA and the National
      Science Foundation funded the research.

      "It is amazing to see our ability to detect extra-solar planets
      growing," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for the Science
      Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "We are finding
      solar systems with a richness of planets and a variety of planetary
      types comparable to our own."

      The newly discovered planet weighs about 45 times the mass of Earth
      and may be similar to Saturn in its composition and appearance. The
      planet is the fourth from 55 Cancri and completes one orbit every 260
      days. Its location places the planet in the "habitable zone," a band
      around the star where the temperature would permit liquid water to
      pool on solid surfaces. The distance from its star is approximately
      72.5 million miles, slightly closer than Earth to our sun, but it
      orbits a star that is slightly fainter.

      "The gas-giant planets in our solar system all have large moons," said
      Debra Fischer, an astronomer at San Francisco State University and
      lead author of a paper that will appear in a future issue of the
      Astrophysical Journal. "If there is a moon orbiting this new, massive
      planet, it might have pools of liquid water on a rocky surface."

      Fischer, University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Geoff Marcy
      and a team of collaborators discovered this planet after careful
      observation of 2,000 nearby stars with the Shane telescope at Lick
      Observatory located on Mt. Hamilton, east of San Jose, Calif., and
      the W.M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. More than 320
      velocity measurements were required to disentangle signals from each
      of the planets.

      "This is the first quintuple-planet system," Fischer said. "This
      system has a dominant gas giant planet in an orbit similar to our
      Jupiter. Like the planets orbiting our sun, most of these planets
      reside in nearly circular orbits."

      "Discovering these five planets took us 18 years of continuous
      observations at Lick Observatory, starting before any extrasolar
      planets were known anywhere in the universe," said Marcy, who
      contributed to the paper. "But finding five extrasolar planets
      orbiting a star is only one small step. Earth-like planets are the
      next destination."

      The planets around 55 Cancri are somewhat different from those
      orbiting our sun. The innermost planet is believed to be about the
      size of Neptune and whips around the star in less than three days at
      a distance from the star of approximately 3.5 million miles. The
      second planet is a little smaller than Jupiter and completes one
      orbit every 14.7 days at a distance from the star of approximately
      11.2 million miles. The third planet, similar in mass to Saturn,
      completes one orbit every 44 days at a distance from the star of
      approximately 22.3 million miles. The newly discovered planet is the
      fourth planet. The fifth and most distant known planet is four times
      the mass of Jupiter and completes one orbit every 14 years at a
      distance from the star of approximately 539.1 million miles. It is
      still the only known Jupiter-like gas giant to reside as far away
      from its star as our own Jupiter.

      "This work marks an exciting next step in the search for worlds like
      our own," said Michael Briley, an astronomer at the National Science
      Foundation. "To go from the first detections of planets around
      sun-like stars to finding a full-fledged solar system with a planet
      in a habitable zone in just 12 years is an amazing accomplishment and
      a testament to the years of hard work put in by these investigators."

      For visuals depicting the new planets on the Web, visit:


      For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


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