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Planet Smaller Than Any Of Those Orbiting Our Sun - Discovered

22 February, 2013


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MessageToEagle.com - Using NASA's Kepler spacecraft and its photometry data, an international team of astronomers spotted a mini-planet outside our solar system - the smallest planet orbiting our sun.

The planet is about the size of the Earth's moon. It is one of three planets orbiting a star designated Kepler-37 in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way.

"Owing to its extremely small size, similar to that of the Earth's moon, and highly irradiated surface, Kepler-37b is very likely a rocky planet with no atmosphere or water, similar to Mercury," the astronomers wrote in a summary of their findings, published online in Nature.


The Kepler Spacecraft's main mission launched by NASA in 2009, Credits: NASA


Steve Kawaler, an Iowa State University professor of physics and astronomy, was part of a team of researchers who studied the oscillations of Kepler-37 to determine its size and along with his team, he determined Kepler-37's mass is about 80 percent the mass of our sun.

"That's basically listening to the star by measuring sound waves," Kawaler added. "The bigger the star, the lower the frequency, or 'pitch' of its song."

“While a sample of only one planet is too small to use for determination of occurrence rates,” the astronomers wrote in the Nature paper, “it does lend weight to the belief that planet occurrence increases exponentially with decreasing planet size.”

For now, that's the lowest mass star astronomers have been able to measure using oscillation data for an ordinary star.



Click on image to enlarge

An artist’s conception of the extrasolar planetary system around the star Kepler-9. Astronomers have discovered an earth-sized planet in this system. (Photo courtesy NASA, Kepler, T. Pyle)


Astronomers with the Kepler team are looking for earth-like planets that might be able to support life and this kind of measurements allowed researchers to measure the three planets orbiting Kepler-37, including the tiny Kepler-37b, more accurately.

"The detection of such a small planet shows for the first time that stellar systems host planets much smaller as well as much larger than anything we see in our own Solar System."

"While a sample of only one planet is too small to use for determination of occurrence rates," the astronomers wrote in the Nature paper, "it does lend weight to the belief that planet occurrence increases exponentially with decreasing planet size."

Kepler launched March 6, 2009, from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, detect tiny variations in the brightness of the stars within its view to indicate planets passing in front of the star.

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