Three Smallest-Yet Planets Found Outside Solar System, NASA Says
Astronomers have discovered the three smallest planets ever found beyond the solar system, and the smallest is the size of Mars, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to observe flickers from a star called KOI-961, the scientists discovered planets about .78, .73, and .57 times as large as Earth, the agency said in a press release.
All three planets are probably rocky, like Earth, though they are too close to their star to have liquid water. Their orbit takes less than 2 days. The star is a red dwarf, the most common kind of star in the Milky Way, and is one-sixth the size of the sun. The finding suggests there could be similar rocky planets all over the galaxy, scientists said in the statement.
“Astronomers are just beginning to confirm thousands of planet candidates uncovered by Kepler so far,” said Doug Hudgins, who is a Kepler program scientist at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, in the statement. “Finding one as small as Mars is amazing, and hints that there may be a bounty of rocky planets all around us.”
The Kepler spacecraft was launched in 2009 to find habitable planets. In February 2010, the mission identified 1,235 planets, about 68 or which are Earth-sized and about 54 of which are in the habitable zone, which isn’t too hot or cold for life. Five planets are both Earth-sized and in the habitable zone.
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