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

Video Getting to Zero AIDS Infections

More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV, a disease that is both preventable and treatable

Children, Childhoods Lost in European Refugee Crisis

According to UNICEF, 190,000 children applied for political asylum in Europe in the first 9 months of this year - twice as many as last year

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

This forum has been closed.
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.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs