In the search for alien life, astronomers have stumbled upon the smallest planet ever discovered outside of our own solar system. The tiny exoplanet is about the size of our moon.
Even though the little planet is an awesome discovery, the search for alien life will continue on because the new planet orbits too close to its sun-like star and is too hot to support life. The surface temperatures are estimated at around 700 degrees during the day – and people think it’s hot in Miami.
The little planet also lacks an atmosphere and water on its rocky surface.
University of California, Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy, one of the founding fathers of the planet-hunting field, called the latest find “absolutely mind-boggling.”
“This new discovery raises the specter that the universe is jampacked, like jelly beans in a jar, with planets even smaller than Earth,” said Marcy, who had no role in the new research.
“The fact we’ve discovered tiny Kepler-37b suggests such little planets are common, and more planetary wonders await as we continue to gather and analyze additional data,” said planetary scientist Jack Lissauer in a press release.
It was almost twenty years ago that the first exoplanet was found outside our solar system. Since then, there’s been an explosion of discoveries, accelerated by NASA’s Kepler telescope launched in 2009 to search for another Earth. So far, 861 planets have been discovered and only recently have scientists been able to detect planets that are similar to size of the Earth or even smaller.
While scientists have theorized the existence of a planet that’s smaller than Mercury — the baby of the solar system since Pluto was downgraded from planet to space rock — they have not spotted one until now.
Mercury, which is the closest planet to our sun, is about two-fifths the Earth’s diameter; the newly discovered planet and our moon are about a third the size of Earth.