By Elizabeth Lopatto
SAN FRANCISCO — A planet the size of the moon has become the smallest found outside the solar system, scientists from the U.S. Kepler space mission said in a paper published Wednesday.
The new planet, called Kepler-37b, is probably rocky with no atmosphere or water, like Mercury, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration researchers said in the paper published in the journal Nature. It’s one of three planets orbiting a star that’s smaller, denser and cooler than the sun.
Discoveries of small planets had been handicapped by the limitations of scientists’ instruments, said Thomas Barclay, a research scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and an author of Wednesday’s report. Most stars aren’t stable or bright enough for planets this small to be detected, he said.
“This was a great test case, and the fact that we found a planet this size on one of the few stars where we can find one hints that small planets like this may be extremely common,” Barclay said in a telephone interview. It’s too early to say how many such planets there might be, he said.
NASA’s Kepler mission is designed to discover Earth-size and smaller celestial bodies in regions around their stars, particularly those where liquid water may exist. The spacecraft was launched in March 2009 and has found about 2,400 planet candidates.
The planet Kepler-37b was detected through comparing the light captured when it passed in front of its star to the star’s usual light. The planet’s star is well-characterized so scientists were able to determine its size with greater certainty, Barclay said.
The previous smallest planets discovered outside the solar system were orbiting a red dwarf, the most common type of star in the Milky Way. The red dwarf was about twice the size of Jupiter. The smallest of those planets was about 0.57 the times of the radius of Earth, or about the size of Mars, according to a NASA announcement from January 2012.
By Elizabeth Lopatto
Toddler is youngest to ever get lab-made windpipe
CHICAGO — A 2-year-old girl born without a windpipe now has a new one grown from her own stem cells, the youngest patient in the world to benefit from the experimental treatment.
EPA methane report further divides fracking camps
PITTSBURGH — The Environmental Protection Agency has dramatically lowered its estimate of how much of a potent heat-trapping gas leaks during natural gas production, in a shift with major implications for a debate that has divided environmentalists: Does the recent boom in fracking help or hurt the fight against climate change?
NASA chief: Visiting an asteroid is all agency can afford
WASHINGTON - A NASA plan to send astronauts to an asteroid was met with skepticism Wednesday when NASA Chief Charlie Bolden presented the idea to top space officials in Congress - though their doubts may not be enough to sink the program.
At Navy Yard, ’living lab’ of energy efficiency
PHILADELPHIA - Building 661 at the Navy Yard was never a thing of beauty. Built in 1942, during the first months of U.S. involvement in World War II, the brick-and-concrete structure’s purpose was to house an indoor swimming pool, basketball courts, and offices, a function it pragmatically performed until the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard closed in 1995.
Expo seeks to inspire new generation of robot-builders
Robots that can transfer plastic rings. Robots that can toss Frisbees into targets. Robots that can climb, swim, dance, or make music. Robots that can clean up a nuclear plant after a Fukushima-style disaster, sparing human beings the risk of radiation poisoning.
UN official hopeful about 2015 climate talks
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Governments are more serious and the impact of climate change is more dramatic, improving chances of a groundbreaking global warming pact in 2015 in contrast with the failure of such an effort in 2009, the U.N. climate chief said Tuesday.
Whiz kids show their stuff at White House science fair
In his dark blue business suit, President Barack Obama climbed onto a bicycle anchored to the ground outside the White House. He pedaled in his polished dress shoes, generating electricity to run a water sanitation system built by a group of Florida teenagers.
How Rocking a Baby Is Like Holding a Kitten by the Neck
A human mother rocking a baby in her arms and a cat carrying her kitten by the scruff of its neck have the same physiological effect on both young animals and probably stem from the same maternal instinct to protect their young. That's the conclusion of a new study, which for the first time has compared the physiological impact of maternal carrying behaviors across species. The findings may lead to better parenting techniques for people and possibly to new ways to detect developmental disorders early in life.
'Living Fossil' Gets Its Genome Sequenced
The coelacanth isn't called a "living fossil" for nothing. The six-foot-long, nearly 200-pound fish was thought to have gone extinct 70 million years ago — until a fisherman caught one in 1938 — and the animal looks a lot like its fossil ancestors dating back 300 million years. Now, the first analysis of the coelacanth's genome reveals why the fish may have changed so little over the ages. It also may help explain how fish like it moved onto land long ago.
Ancient Mating Dance Offers Ranchers, Birds a Lifeline
BURWELL, Neb. — Under an indigo pre-dawn sky, as a frigid wind whipped across the plains, a half-dozen brown-and-white birds emerged from tufts of dry grass. They emitted a low cooing sound, akin to the hooting of an owl.
- More Science/Technology Headlines
- Toddler is youngest to ever get lab-made windpipe