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article imageNASA’s Kepler spacecraft finds invisible world

By Kathleen Blanchard     Sep 8, 2011 in Science
Scientists have discovered a previously unseen planet that has generated some excitement. The “invisible” world of Kepler-19c was uncovered when researchers from NASA's Kepler spacecraft noticed a known planet arriving late.
The ‘invisible’ planet, Kepler-19c, tugs at the late arriving Kepler-19b, slowing it down and then speeding its transition.
The researchers say watching variations in the way planets transit is an exciting way to discover unknown worlds.
"This invisible planet makes itself known by its influence on the planet we can see," said astronomer Sarah Ballard of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), lead study author.
Scientists discovered the planet Neptune, which is influenced by Uranus the same way. Uranus’ appearance was also unpredictable, so scientists suspected there was an unseen planetary influence.
After some calculating, they predicted where Neptune might be and found it using telescopes.
Ballard explains in a press release, "It's like having someone play a prank on you by ringing your doorbell and running away. You know someone was there, even if you don't see them when you get outside.”
The Kepler spacecraft locates planets by watching for stars that dim as a planet crosses its star. Larger planets cause the stars they cross to appear dimmer, but the stars and planets have to align exactly for scientists to tell how big a planet is.
Kepler - 19b, transits its star every 9 days and 7 hours. The scientists knew the planet would arrive at exactly the same time if it was alone. But instead, it appears five minutes early and five minutes late.
The researchers say Kepler 19 can be viewed in September with backyard telescopes and is in the constellation Lyra. As far as the ‘invisible’ Kepler 19-c goes, the scientists know little.
Study co-author Daniel Fabrycky of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) said, "Kepler-19c has multiple personalities consistent with our data. For instance, it could be a rocky planet on a circular 5-day orbit, or a gas-giant planet on an oblong 100-day orbit."
The scientists plan to continue watching Kepler-19c. They hope to learn more by using HARPS-N, which is a ground-based instrument they will employ in April 2012. The device can help scientists measure the size and orbit of newly discovered planets. The Kepler mission is to find habitable planets that might be similar to earth.
More about Kepler spacecraft, invisible world, Kepler 19c, New planet discovered
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