Milestone in the search for earth-like exoplanets: Kepler-10b

January 11, 2011

A major milestone has been achieved by the Kepler Spacecraft- the smallest exoplanet found thus far. Kepler-10b is a small, dense, rocky world only 1.4 times the size of earth. It’s not earth-like, but it is earth-sized. This planet orbits its parent star very close- even closer than Mercury is to our sun, and it’s tidally-locked- meaning the same side always faces its star. It’s so hot that most of its surface is probably molten, and the star’s point-blank radiation would have long since “blown” away any atmosphere it might’ve had, so there’s no way it could support life. Still, this is a major milestone simply because it’s such a small planet. Detecting planets using the transit method is very difficult to begin with and the smaller they are, the harder they are to see. I’ve said this many times before, but it is literally only a matter of time, possibly only months, until Kepler uncovers a true earth-twin. That will create a fundamental shift in the mindset of the entire astronomy community from “are we alone?” toward the direction of “what are they like?”

(Via Universe Today, Bad Astronomy, and NASA)

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