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.

Last modified June 6, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

What is a planet?

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

Triggers of Volcanic Eruptions in Oregon's Mount Hood Investigated

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

Oldest Earth Mantle Reservoir Discovered

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

Itís Not Your Fault Ė A Typical Fault, Geologically Speaking, That Is

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

Lower Solar Activity Linked to Changes in Sun's Conveyor Belt

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

Growth Spurt in Tree Rings Prompts Questions About Climate Change

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

Did Life First Develop in a Mica Sandwich at the Bottom of a Primordial Sea?

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

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA