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TrES-2b: Astronomers Discover Darkest Known Exoplanet (PHOTO)

First Posted: 08/12/11 04:51 PM ET   Updated: 10/12/11 06:12 AM ET

Hopefully you're not too afraid of the dark.

Astronomers using data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft have discovered a "Jupiter-sized gas giant" believed to be the darkest planet in the galaxy.

The planet -- named TrES-2b -- is located 750 light years away in the direction of the constellation Draco, and according to lead author David Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, it is indeed a remarkable find.

"TrES-2b is considerably less reflective than black acrylic paint, so it's truly an alien world," Kipping said in a statement.

Unlike planets in our solar system, TrES-2b lacks reflective clouds due to its extreme heat, a condition which researchers believe explains the planet's extraordinary darkness. The clouds that surround Jupiter, for example, reflect over a third of the sunlight in their path.

A few more details from the press release:

TrES-2b orbits its star at a distance of only three million miles. The star's intense light heats TrES-2b to a temperature of more than 1,800° Fahrenheit - much too hot for ammonia clouds. Instead, its exotic atmosphere contains light-absorbing chemicals like vaporized sodium and potassium, or gaseous titanium oxide. Yet none of these chemicals fully explain the extreme blackness of TrES-2b.

According to Space.com, the discovery "reinforces the idea that our solar system may not be as typical as we once thought, with an extraordinary variety of worlds potentially filling our galaxy."

And while the planet is indeed really, really dark, it's not a complete blackout.

"It's not clear what is responsible for making this planet so extraordinarily dark," co-author David Spiegel added. "However, it's not completely pitch black. It's so hot that it emits a faint red glow, much like a burning ember or the coils on an electric stove."

In July, the Hubble Space Telescope found a fourth moon circling Pluto, and earlier this month NASA reported the possibility of flowing water on Mars.

CORRECTION: This article has been changed to reflect that TrES-2b is located 750 light years away, not 750 million light years.

Check out an artist's conception of the distant exoplanet:

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Filed by Steven Hoffer  |