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Discovery of 'mega-Earth' means life on other planets more likely

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
6/3/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Giant rocky planet formed earlier than believed possible.

Astronomers have found a new class of planet, a "mega-Earth." The latest find is reportedly 17 times the mass of Earth and was presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. 

Kepler-10c is 17 times the mass of Earth.

Kepler-10c is 17 times the mass of Earth.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
6/3/2014 (3 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Kepler-10c, planet, mega earth


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Astronomers have announced the discovery of a "mega-Earth," a planet some 17 times the mass of Earth. The planet is designated Kepler-10c, and orbits its sun-like parent star once every 45 days.

Located about 560 light years away in the Constellation Draco, as seen from Earth, Kepler-10c research originally suggested that the planet was a gas giant, orbiting close it its parent star. Such planets are not uncommon, often known as "hot Jupiters," or based on mass, "mini-Neptunes," which are a bit smaller.

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However, studies on the mass of the planet revealed that it could only have a rocky composition as opposed to a large gaseous envelope of an atmosphere. That means the planet is a titanic rocky body, many, many times the size of Earth. Rocky planets of this mass are unheard of.

Scientists are now asking if the planet is an extreme oddity or it if is typical.  The answer may lie somewhere in-between. The problem is that direct observational evidence is difficult to obtain because previous measurements, taken in the context of surveys of stars, have been relatively brief. As longer measurements of each star system are made, it becomes more likely that a planet will be observed. Planets are detected by the wobble they make in the star's light and in the tidal forces they exert.

Another interesting feature about the Kepler-10 star system is that it is 11 billion years old. That means the planet formed just 3 billion years after the Big Bang, something scientists have always thought possibly but unlikely.

It also suggests that if the early universe had the material to make heavy planets, then it also had the material to make life. That makes life more likely in the universe.

The implications of the planet are more important than the planet itself.

Astronomers will now look for, additional mega-Earths.

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