Nasa has announced the discovery of a strange new solar system with six planets orbiting around a sun-like star. The discovery is mystifying astronomers and illustrates just how much variety is possible in the universe. Five of the planets were found to be in a closer orbit to their star than any planet in Earth's solar system.
"We really were just amazed at this gift that Nature...has given us. And with six transiting planets, five so close to their star, and getting the size and masses of these five fairly small worlds, there's only one word that I can think of that adequately describes the new finding we're announcing today - supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," Nasa scientist Jack Lissauer said at a news briefing in Washington DC, referring to the word made famous in the 1964 Disney movie, "Mary Poppins."
The team at Nasa and a range of universities has named the system Kepler-11, after the orbiting Kepler space telescope that spotted it.
The star resembles Earth's own sun. But five of the planets orbiting it are packed into a space equivalent to the distance between Mercury and Venus in our own solar system.
Astronomers have now found more than 500 exoplanets. Most are giant, because they are so far away that only the biggest are detectable. But some researchers are certain there are Earthlike planets out there.