The new year has gotten off to a pretty hot start. So far, scientists have discovered 10 new exoplanets – or planets outside of our solar system. That brings the total number of confirmed exoplanets to 726. Do you feel a little bit smaller? I sure do.
Most recently, three rocky, smaller than Earth-sized planets were found orbiting a red dwarf.
Since the planets orbit relatively close to their sun – KOI-961 – it would seem that the bodies wouldn’t be able to sustain life. However, a red dwarf is a relatively cool star and … well, you never really know. Life doesn’t have to be intelligent to count as life, right?
While the planet is not in the “habitable zone” – a region where liquid water could exist – this is still a very important discovery. Why? Well, most of the planets discovered outside of our solar system have been massive gas giants. There’s only been a handful of smaller, rocky planets that have been discovered.
According to John Johnson, the principal investigator of the research from NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena:
This is the tiniest solar system found so far … It’s actually more similar to Jupiter and its moons in scale than any other planetary system. The discovery is further proof of the diversity of planetary systems in our galaxy
Another “Star Wars-like” planetary system
Last September, we found a planet called Kepler-16b that was just like Star Wars’ Tatooine – a planet with two stars. And now, only four months later, scientists have discovered another system just like that.
Saturn-sized Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b were recently discovered to orbit a pair of stars. The system is called a circumbinary planetary system.
“This work establishes that such ‘two sun’ planets are not rare exceptions, but are in fact common with many millions existing in our Galaxy,” a NASA release stated.
Each of these discoveries was due to data provided by NASA’s Kepler mission, which has already helped confirm 35 exoplanets and identify over 2,000 planetary candidates.
Want to read more about the other eight planets found this year? Check out the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia.
Curious to see some of the strangest alien planets discovered so far? Space.com has a fabulous gallery you’ve got to see.