May 13, 2009 | 4
The Kepler spacecraft, launched by NASA in March to look for cousins of Earth—those planets around other stars that have the right conditions for life—is now on the job. The spacecraft is in position, trailing Earth in an orbit around the sun, and has completed a tune-up of its instruments.
"Now the fun begins," Kepler principal investigator Bill Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said in a statement. "We are all really excited to start sorting through the data and discovering the planets."
Jan 19, 2009
An international consortium of researchers a few months ago reported what appeared to be the smallest planet yet detected orbiting a star other than our own sun. Such objects are known as extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, and most of the 300-plus so far discovered are quite large in size compared to Earth. But a new estimate of the size of the smallest exoplanet, known as MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, reportedly brings its mass down even further—and even closer to that of Earth. (An even smaller object had been observed in 1992, but it orbits a stellar remnant known as a pulsar.)
Astrophysicist Jean-Philippe Beaulieu of the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris, a member of the team that discovered MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, presented his new estimate at a recent meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, according to the New Scientist. Whereas the original estimate for the exoplanet's mass was roughly three Earths, the new number is a mere 1.4 Earth-masses. (Beaulieu could not be reached for comment today.)
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