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Sci-Tech

NASA's Kepler telescope identifies new 'Super Earth'

Rallying back from a mechanical failure, the telescope helps confirm the existence of an exoplanet 2.5 times the diameter of Planet Earth.

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NASA's Kepler telescope, pictured here, is back on its mission to answer the age-old question: "Is anybody out there?" NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle

NASA has discovered an exoplanet that's 20,000 miles in diameter and about 12 times as massive as Earth -- but don't expect it to contain life, at least not as we know it.

Dubbed HIP 116454b, the exoplanet is approximately 180 light-years away from Earth and is probably too hot to sustain life. It's called an exoplanet because it orbits something other than the sun.

HIP 116454b originally was detected by the Kepler telescope during a nine-day test run in February. On Thursday, its existence was confirmed, with further measurements taken by the HARPS-North spectrograph of the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands and the Canadian MOST satellite, according to the New York Times.

The development is good news for NASA's Kepler telescope, which had been out of commission due to an equipment failure.

"Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler, after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission, was not part of the conversation," said Paul Hertz, NASA's astrophysics division director. "Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life."

HIP 116454b, which is smaller than Neptune and Uranus, likely will be one of those candidates for further study. The James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to become operational in late 2018, uses infrared technology to analyze the atmospheres of far-off worlds and search for signs of life.

Who knows, maybe they'll find life out there in deep space some day. The truth is out there.