Artist's conception of the newly discovered planet orbiting a brown dwarf "star"
Click on image for full size
NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program
Small Planet, Small Star
News story originally written on June 2, 2008
It isnít easy to find a planet that is like Earth. Most of the planets that astronomers are finding outside of our solar system are huge - much more massive than Earth.
However, astronomers searching the Universe have found a small planet thatís a lot like Earth. Itís 3000 light years away and itís the smallest planet ever found that is orbiting a normal star - only three times more massive than Earth.
The star that it orbits is not large. It is perhaps one-twentieth the mass of our Sun. Finding the small planet orbiting the small star suggests that small stars may be good places to look for other small planets.
The small star might be massive enough to have nuclear reactions in its core, making it a lot like our Sun. But it may be too small for nuclear reactions. If so, then it is called a brown dwarf.
The first measurements of the new planet and its star were made by astronomers in New Zealand. Scientists in Chile made observations too. Then scientists around the world examined the data.
If there are other planets in the Universe that are like Earth, they might be places where life could survive.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
on science education, classroom activities in The Earth Scientist
specimens, and educational games
You might also be interested in:
Do you know what a planet is? Guess what... astronomers are not quite sure what a planet is! Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are the planets closest to the Sun. They are definitely all planets. They are...more
Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. Adam Kent, a geologist at Oregon State University, says this...more
The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core. The mantle is made up of many different reservoirs that have different chemical compositions. Scientists...more
Some faults look strong and like they wouldnít cause an earthquake. But it turns out that they can slip and slide like weak faults causing earthquakes. Scientists have been looking at one of these faults...more
The sun goes through cycles that last approximately 11 years. These solar cycle include phases with more magnetic activity, sunspots, and solar flares. They also include phases with less activity. The...more
Studying tree rings doesn't only tell us the age of that tree. Tree rings also show what climate was like while the tree was alive. This means that tree rings can tell us about climates of the past. Two...more
Earth's first life form may have developed between the layers of a chunk of mica sitting like a multilayered sandwich in primordial waters, according to a new hypothesis. The mica hypothesis, which was...more