Kepler-78b: Earth-Like Planet Discovered Close to Its Sun

Image: Kepler-78b: Earth-Like Planet Discovered Close to Its Sun

Thursday, 31 Oct 2013 09:03 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The Kepler-78b is a planet that closely resembles the earth in terms of density and inner composition, but its rocky surface is covered in molten lava and it is situated less than a million miles from its sun.

The discovery of the new planet was made by astronomers analyzing data collected by the Kepler space telescope, which launched in March 2009 to discover planets similar to the Earth. The Kepler-78b is situated in the Cygnus constellation, approximately 400 light-years from Earth.

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"This planet is a complete mystery," astronomer David Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) said in a university press release. "We don't know how it formed or how it got to where it is today. What we do know is that it's not going to last forever."

Due to the shrinking distance between Kepler-78b and the sun, the Kepler-78b "is going to end up in the star very soon, astronomically speaking," according to CfA astronomer Dimitar Sasselov.

The Kepler-78b is approximately 20 percent larger than the Earth, with a diameter of 9,200 miles, and weighs nearly twice as much as the Earth. The newly discovered planet also has an "Earth-like composition of iron and rock," the press release noted.

Scientists are not sure exactly how it formed or how the Kepler-78b got so close to the sun, the Los Angeles Times reported. If the planet had formed today, it would have been within the sun.

"It couldn't have formed in place because you can't form a planet inside a star," explained Sasselov. "It couldn't have formed further out and migrated inward, because it would have migrated all the way into the star. This planet is an enigma."

"That doesn’t work – so it would have to form further away from the star and then gradually migrate its way in to where it is now," Latham told the Los Angeles Times. "But that’s got a bit of a problem too because it’s so close."

According Latham, within a few hundred million years, the Kepler-78b will "get swallowed by the star."

The CfA noted that if such a planet had existed in our solar system, it would have been destroyed by our sun "long ago leaving no signs for astronomers today."

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Related stories:

Deep Blue Planet Similar to Earth's Color Found 63 Light Years Away

Planet With No Sun Is First Known of Its Kind, Astronomers Say

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