- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001


Astronomers have discovered eight new planets, including two with circular orbits comparable to those found in our own solar system, NASA and the National Science Foundation announced yesterday.

The circular orbits make the discovery important because elliptical orbits produce temperatures so extreme that planets with such orbits cannot sustain life. Most of the 80 planets discovered thus far in other solar systems follow elliptical orbits.

"This result is very exciting," said Anne Kinney, director of Astronomy and Physics Division at NASA headquarters in Washington.

These recent discoveries "mark the beginning of an avalanche of data which will help to provide the answers" about the formation and evolution of planets and planetary systems, she said.

The planets, recently spotted by a team of astronomers from the United States, Australia, Belgium and Britain, have masses ranging from 0.8 times to 10 times that of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

They orbit their stars at distances ranging from 0.07 astronomical units one astronomical unit roughly equals 92.7 million miles, the distance from sun to Earth to three astronomical units.

"As our search continues, we're finding planets in larger and larger orbits," said Steve Vogt of the Lick Observatory at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

"Most of the planetary systems we've found have looked like very distant relatives of the solar system no family likeness at all. Now we're starting to see something like second cousins. In a few years' time we could be finding brothers and sisters."

Two other planets with circular orbits were discovered in the past five months, including a planet the size of Jupiter in the Big Dipper or Ursa Major constellation.

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