Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Just this December, NASA announced they had confirmed Kepler's detection of the two smallest exoplanets ever discovered, Kepler 20 e and Kepler 20 f, orbiting around the star Kepler 20, located 950 light years from Earth in the Lyra constellation. Both planets were estimated to be roughly the size of Earth, Kepler 20 f, being the largest of the two with an estimated diameter of around 13,200 km. Well, It's a mere month later now and it appears that three new planets have arisen to take the title of smallest known exoplanets for themselves.
Found orbiting the small red dwarf star KOI-961, which is located 130 light years from Earth, in the Cygnus constellation. KOI-961.01, KOI-961.02 and KOI-961.03 (I know, I wish they'd find a better way of naming these things too) are all believed to be rocky planets about the same size as Earth, the smallest of the three being about the size as Mars. So not only are the planets in this trio the smallest exoplanets yet discovered. But they now join the ranks of the very short list of confirmed exoplanets that are believed to be rocky worlds like our own, as well.
As for the BIG question that's always on every one's mind whenever any extra solar planet is discovered. According to NASA, the proximity to which these newly discovered worlds are believed to orbit their parent star, would it impossible for them to maintain surface liquids, and therefore -unlikely homes for life.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL