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Hubble detects oxygen, carbon near distant planet

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Hubble Space Telescope has detected oxygen and carbon in the atmosphere of a distant planet, the first time these elements have been found around a world outside our solar system, scientists said on Monday.

Unlike Earth, the planet is a hot, gassy orb very close to its sun-like star, and the oxygen and carbon are not signs of any sort of life, Hubble scientists said in a statement.

Still, astronomers said Hubble's findings show that the chemical composition of atmospheres of planets many light-years away can be measured.

The planet -- known as HD 209458b or Osiris -- is orbiting a star 150 light-years from Earth. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km), the distance light travels in a year.

Osiris is only 4.3 million miles (6.92 million km) from its star -- compared with Earth's 93 million miles (150 million km) from the sun -- and whips around in an orbit of less than four days.

It belongs to a class of planets called "hot Jupiters," whose upper atmosphere is so hot it boils hydrogen off into space.

NASA announced last month that it would not send a previously scheduled servicing mission to Hubble, effectively consigning the orbiting telescope to a slow death.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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