News / Science & Technology

New 'Super-Earth' Found With Fine-Tuned Telescope Readings

A NASA image of space
A NASA image of space

A distant planet barely bigger than Earth has been discovered in our galaxy, but it might have been missed if not for the combined efforts of several observatories both on and around our home planet.

U.S. space agency astronomers say the hard-to-detect data gathered during multiple readings by the Kepler space telescope and two ground observatories revealed tiny clues they needed to make the improbable discovery of a so-called super-Earth planet that otherwise would have gone undetected.

NASA's orbiting Kepler probe initially detected the super-Earth - a distant rocky planet about the size of the Earth - in our Milky Way galaxy about 350 light years from our solar system. Overlapping readings taken by two ground-based telescopes at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona confirmed the discovery.

Discovering a relatively small, Earth-sized planet so far away is remarkable because usually only distant planets at least as big as our solar system’s monstrous gas-giant, Jupiter, can be detected - and Jupiter has nearly 320 times more mass than the Earth, with 120 times more surface area.  

The newly-found alien world is relatively small at only 1.6 times the size of the Earth. It also streaks around its very bright star in just 2.8 days, and orbits from a scorchingly close distance of 6 million kilometers, making the bizarre super-Earth more difficult to track and identify.  

The NASA astronomers say the task took 65 scientists 15 months and that the multiple precision measurements and other readings taken by Kepler and the Kitt Peak telescopes made such a sensitive planet detection possible.

In a related development, the California Institute of Technology, Caltech, on Friday announced the significant discovery of 18 Jupiter-sized planets.  The huge alien worlds, or exoplanets, were detected in a decade-long survey of more than 300 expanding, aging stars.  

Details of the separate NASA and Caltech discoveries will appear in reports published in an upcoming edition of Astrophysical Journal.

Astronomers search for distant planets by measuring a star's brightness. Planets passing between the star and the telescope will cause its instruments to register a slight dimming in the star's brightness.

The NASA scientists emphasize that just because a planet is categorized as a super-Earth does not mean it is Earth-like.  They say the newly-found super-Earth is heavy and dense, with a mass no more than 10 times that of the Earth, and it has a surface temperature of 1,630 degrees Celsius, which is hot enough to melt iron.   

In contrast to the strange exoplanet's brief 2.8-day year and scorching proximity to its star, the Earth is a comfortable 150 million kilometers away from the Sun, and takes a leisurely 365 days to make a complete solar orbit.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs