NASA”s Kepler Space Telescope Discovers Smallest ‘Exo-Planet’ Ever
MOFFETT FIELD, California – Scientists from NASA’s Ames Research Center have announced that the NASA Kepler Mission has discovered a new planetary system with the smallest planet ever found orbiting a star similar to that of our own sun.
The planetary system is named Kepler-37, and is orbiting the constellation Lyra, some 210 light years from Earth.
The tiny planet that Kepler discovered is called Kepler-37b, and it is a little bit larger than our own moon, about one third the size of Earth.
Astronomers at NASA are indicating that the planet does not have an atmosphere and is not a habitable planet.
Several other planets have also been discovered orbiting the constellation Lyra, Kepler 37c is slightly smaller than Venus, and Kepler 37d is twice the size of planet Earth.
Kepler’s discovery of this tiny planet along with the 2 neighboring planets was made as part of Kepler’s mission directorate, which has Kepler searching the skies for planets in the “habitable zone,” a region of space where planets orbit a son similar to our own solar system, and where liquid water might exist on the surface, supporting life similar to that on Earth.
“Even Kepler can only detect such a tiny world around the brightest stars it observes” said Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames research Center in Moffett Field California. “The fact we discovered tiny Kepler- 37b suggest such little planets are common, and more planetary wonders await as we continue to gather and analyze additional data.”
This new planetary system’s star, Lyra, is said to be slightly cooler as well as smaller as our own sun, but is still in the same class as our sun. The surface temperature of this tiny planet is estimated at more than 800°F, and all 3 of the newly discovered planets orbit Lyra at a distance less than the distance that Mercury is to our own sun.
“We uncovered a planet smaller than any in our solar system orbiting one of the few stars that is both bright and quiet, where signal detection was possible,” said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, California, and lead author of this newest NASA study, published in the journal Nature. “This discovery shows close in planets can be smaller, as well as much larger, then planets orbiting our sun.”
Kepler’s current mission, the NASA Discovery Mission #10, has the telescope onboard Kepler simultaneously and continuously measuring the brightness of more than 150,000 stars every 30 minutes, looking for a transit in front of one of these 150,000 stars. A transit is when a planetary candidate passes in front of the star in that planetary system, directly blocking light emanating from that star.
The study authors and the research team from this current planetary system discovery have used this data generated by NASA’s Kepler space telescope to make their initial discovery, conducting additional experiments to measure the size of the star in this planetary system, so that they can properly estimate and measure the actual size of the planets in that planetary system.