By Bary Alyssa Johnson ( | First Posted: Sep 16, 2012 06:41 PM EDT

Astronomers have discovered two gas giant planets orbiting stars in the Beehive cluster, a collection of about 1,000 tightly packed stars. The planets are the first ever found around sun-like stars in a cluster of stars. Such planets, even though they are not habitable, would have skies filled with many bright stars as illustrated in this artist's concept. A gas giant planet is shown to the right of its sun-like star, and all around, the stars of the Beehive cluster shine brightly in the dark.
(Photo : NASA)

A group of astronomers funded by NASA have discovered two new planets orbiting sun-like stars in a cluster of stars called "the Beehive." The discovery was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Sam Quinn, a graduate student in astronomy at Georgia State University and his team worked with David Latham, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to make the find and co-author the paper on it.

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"This has been a big puzzle for planet hunters," Quinn said in a statement. "We know that most stars form in clustered environments like the Orion nebula, so unless this dense environment inhibits planet formation, at least some sun-like stars in open clusters should have planets. Now, we finally know they are indeed there."

These scientists' findings offer the strongest recorded evidence that planets can crop up in dense stellar environments. The two new planets are called "hot Jupiters." Hot Jupiters are enormous gaseous orbs that maintain an extremely hot temperature due to their proximity to their cluster of "parent" stars - the Beehive. The Beehive is essentially a cluster of young stars that "swarm" around a common center and are bound together by mutual gravitational attraction, according to NASA.

"The relatively young age of the Beehive cluster makes these planets among the youngest known," Russel White, principal investigator on the NASA Origins of Solar System grant that funded this study said in a statement. "And that's important because it sets a constraint on how quickly giant planets migrate inward - and knowing how quickly they migrate is the first step to figuring out how they migrate."

Many theorists have been investigating and trying to understand how hot Jupiters remain so close to their stars. Several theories imply that the hot Jupiters start out much cooler when they first form farther out from their stars and then migrate inward. Due to their high temperatures, these planets are uninhabitable.

The two new planets in the Beehive are called Pr0201b and Pr0211b. Quinn, Latham and their team discovered them at the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysical Observatory's Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona. The discoveries were made using a 1.5 meter Tillinghest telescope."

"These are the first b's in the Beehive," Quinn joked.

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