Earth-like planet discovered outside solar system
2009 09 17
By Lucy Cockcroft | Telegraph.co.uk
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet outside the Solar System, 'shortening' the odds that alien life could exist.
A new study of the planet, which orbits a star 500 light years away, has shown that its density is similar to Earth's, indicating it is a solid rocky world.
The existence of COROT-7b suggests other similar planets could exist in an orbit that is cooler and less hostile. Photo: EPA
Known as COROT-7b, it was discovered in February this year by the European space telescope COROT, which had been tracking the star it circles.
It is the first planet to be discovered beyond our Solar System with a solid structure that could support living organisms.
However, because COROT-7b is only 1.6 million miles from its parent star, 23 times closer than Mercury is to the Sun, it is too hot to harbour extraterrestrial life.
Despite this, its discovery suggests that other similar planets could exist in an orbit that is cooler and less hostile.
Dr Didier Queloz, from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, led the study. He said: ''This is science at its thrilling and amazing best.
"We did everything we could to learn what the object discovered by the COROT satellite looks like and we found a unique system.''
When it was first observed seven months ago, COROT-7b's diameter was shown then to be about 80 per cent larger than the Earth's. However, its mass, and hence its density, could not initially be calculated.
These values have now been worked out from new data collected by the High Accuracy Radial-velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory.
Scientists found that its mass was five times that of Earth, which makes its density similarly solid.
COROT-7b orbits its star at a speed of more than 750,000 kilometres per hour, more than seven times faster than the Earth's motion around the Sun.
Temperatures on its ''day'' face are believed to exceed 2,000C while those on its ''night'' face may be as low as minus 200C.
Measurements also suggest that COROT-7 hosts another ''exoplanet'' further away than COROT-7b.
Designated COROT-7c, it has a mass about eight times that of the Earth and orbits its parent star in three days and 17 hours.
The research was presented at the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, Germany. It is also due to appear in a special issue of the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal next month.
Article from: Telegraph.co.uk
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