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Nature - and the news media, it seems - abhors a vacuum. That could explain the recent uproar over a talk by Dimitar Sasselov, a member of the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope's science team.

Kepler launched in March 2009 and has been hard at work staring at the same patch of sky in search of characteristic dips in starlight that would signal a passing planet. Progress has been fairly quick. Not long after reaching orbit, the telescope team released the vital stats on five confirmed planets and announced it had found 706 stars that seem to have planet potential.

But NASA has allowed data on 400 of these stars, which include the brightest and easiest to study, to be held back from public release until February 2011. This secrecy has frustrated some astronomers and fuelled a hunger for news of more planets, particularly Earth-like ones.

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Category: Science