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Hunting telescope unearths hot mysteries

Associated Press / January 5, 2010

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WASHINGTON - NASA’s new planet-hunting telescope has found two mystery objects that are too hot to be planets and too small to be stars.

The Kepler Telescope, launched in March, discovered the two new heavenly bodies, each circling its own star. Telescope chief scientist Bill Borucki of NASA said the objects are thousands of degrees hotter than the stars they circle. That means they probably aren’t planets. They are bigger and hotter than planets in our solar system.

“The universe keeps making strange things stranger than we can think of in our imagination,’’ said Jon Morse, head of astrophysics for NASA.

The new discoveries don’t quite fit into any definition of known astronomical objects, and so far don’t have a classification of their own. Details about the mystery objects were presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

For now, NASA researcher Jason Rowe calls the objects “hot companions.’’ They are 26,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt lead or iron.