Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

First Earth-sized planets found

21.12.2011
Astronomers using NASA's Kepler mission have detected two Earth-sized planets orbiting a distant star. This discovery marks a milestone in the hunt for alien worlds, since it brings scientists one step closer to their ultimate goal of finding a twin Earth.

"The goal of Kepler is to find Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone. Proving the existence of Earth-sized exoplanets is a major step toward achieving that goal," said Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).


The first two Earth-sized exoplanets found by Kepler are shown here in comparison to Earth and Venus. Kepler-20e has a diameter of 6,900 miles, meaning it is 0.87 times the size of Earth and 0.92 times the size of Venus. Kepler-20f has a diameter of 8,200 miles, meaning it is only 3 percent larger than Earth. They are part of a five-planet system orbiting the star Kepler-20. All five would fit within the orbit of Mercury in our solar system. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

The paper describing the finding will be published in the journal Nature.

The two planets, dubbed Kepler-20e and 20f, are the smallest planets found to date. They have diameters of 6,900 miles and 8,200 miles - equivalent to 0.87 times Earth (slightly smaller than Venus) and 1.03 times Earth. These worlds are expected to have rocky compositions, so their masses should be less than 1.7 and 3 times Earth's.

Both worlds circle Kepler-20: a G-type star slightly cooler than the Sun and located 950 light-years from Earth. (It would take the space shuttle 36 million years to travel to Kepler-20.)

Kepler-20e orbits every 6.1 days at a distance of 4.7 million miles. Kepler-20f orbits every 19.6 days at a distance of 10.3 million miles. Due to their tight orbits, they are heated to temperatures of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit and 800 degrees F.

In addition to the two Earth-sized worlds, the Kepler-20 system contains three larger planets. All five have orbits closer than Mercury in our solar system.

They also show an unexpected arrangement. In our solar system small, rocky worlds orbit close to the Sun and large, gas giant worlds orbit farther out. In contrast, the planets of Kepler-20 are organized in alternating size: big, little, big, little, big.

"We were surprised to find this system of flip-flopping planets," said co-author David Charbonneau of the CfA. "It's very different than our solar system."

The three largest planets are designated Kepler-20b, 20c, and 20d. They have diameters of 15,000, 24,600, and 22,000 miles and orbit once every 3.7, 10.9, and 77.6 days, respectively. Kepler-20b has 8.7 times the mass of Earth; Kepler-20c has 16.1 times Earth's mass. Kepler-20d weighs less than 20 times Earth.

The planets of Kepler-20 could not have formed in their current locations. Instead, they must have formed farther from their star and then migrated inward, probably through interactions with the disk of material from which they all formed. This allowed the worlds to maintain their regular spacing despite alternating sizes.

Kepler identifies "objects of interest" by looking for stars that dim slightly, which can occur when a planet crosses the star's face. To confirm a transiting planet, astronomers look for the star to wobble as it is gravitationally tugged by its orbiting companion (a method known as radial velocity).

The radial velocity signal for planets weighing one to a few Earth masses is too small to detect with current technology. Therefore, other techniques must be used to validate that an object of interest is truly a planet.

A variety of situations could mimic the dimming from a transiting planet. For example, an eclipsing binary-star system whose light blends with the star Kepler-20 would create a similar signal. To rule out such imposters, the team simulated millions of possible scenarios with Blender - custom software developed by Fressin and Willie Torres of CfA. They concluded that the odds are strongly in favor of Kepler-20e and 20f being planets.

Fressin and Torres also used Blender to confirm the existence of Kepler-22b, a planet in the habitable zone of its star that was announced by NASA earlier this month. However, that world was much larger than Earth.

"These new planets are significantly smaller than any planet found up till now orbiting a Sun-like star," added Fressin.

Christine Pulliam | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cfa.harvard.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>