Super Earth

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zero_cool

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In a discovery that has left one expert stunned, European astronomers have found one of the smallest planets known outside our solar system, a world about 14 times the mass of our own around a star much like the Sun.<br /><br />It could be a rocky planet with a thin atmosphere, a sort of "super Earth," the researchers said today.<br /><br />But this is no typical Earth. It completes its tight orbit in less than 10 days, compared to the 365 required for our year. Its daytime face would be scorched.<br /><br />The planet's surface conditions aren't known, said Portuguese researcher Nuno Santos, who led the discovery. "However, we can expect it to be quite hot, given the proximity to the star."<br /><br />Hot as in around 1,160 degrees Fahrenheit (900 Kelvin), Santos told SPACE.com.<br /><br />Still, the discovery is a significant advance in technology: No planet so small has ever been detected around a normal star. And the finding reveals a solar system more similar to our own than anything found so far.<br /><br />Terrestrial in nature<br /><br />The star is like our Sun and just 50 light-years away. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers). Most of the known extrasolar planets are hundreds or thousands of light-years distant.<br /><br />The star, mu Arae, is visible under dark skies from the Southern Hemisphere. It harbors two other planets. One is Jupiter-sized and takes 650 days to make its annual trip around the star. The other planet, whose existence was confirmed with the help of the new observations, is farther out.<br /><br />The three-planet setup, with one being rocky, is unique.<br /><br />"It's much closer to our solar system than anything we've found so far," said Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington. <br /><br />"This really is an exciting discovery," said Boss, who was not involved in the work. "I'm still somewhat stunned they have such good data."<br /><br />The discovery
 
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