Rachel Courtland writes in New Scientist:
A giant planet with the density of Styrofoam is one of a clutch of new exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler telescope. The planets are too hot to support life as we know it, but the discoveries, made during the telescope’s first few weeks of operation, suggest Kepler is on the right track to find Earth’s twins, researchers say.
More than 400 planets have now been found orbiting other stars, but Earth-sized planets — which may be the best habitats for life — have remained elusive.
NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope is designed to find them. It has been scrutinising 100,000 stars since April 2009, searching for telltale dips in starlight created when planets pass in front of their host stars.
During its first six weeks of observations, it found five new planets. All are giants — four are heavier than Jupiter and one is about as massive as Neptune. They all orbit their host stars so closely that their surfaces are hotter than molten lava. “Looking at them might be like looking at a blast furnace,” says lead scientist William Borucki, who presented the results on Monday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC.
Read More: New Scientist