NASA’s Kepler finds small planet only 210 light years away

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NASA’s Kepler mission scientists have discovered a new planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star similar to our sun.

 

The planetary system is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star like our sun, approximately 210 light-years away in the constellation Lyra. / NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech

The planetary system is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star like our sun, approximately 210 light-years away in the constellation Lyra. / NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech

The planets are located in a system called Kepler-37, about 210 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. The smallest planet, Kepler-37b, is slightly larger than our moon, measuring about one-third the size of Earth. It is smaller than Mercury, which made its detection a challenge.

The moon-size planet and its two companion planets were found by scientists with NASA’s Kepler mission, which is designed to find Earth-sized planets in or near the “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. However, while the star in Kepler-37 may be similar to our sun, the system appears quite unlike the solar system in which we live.

Astronomers think Kepler-37b does not have an atmosphere and cannot support life as we know it. The tiny planet almost certainly is rocky in composition. Kepler-37c, the closer neighboring planet, is slightly smaller than Venus, measuring almost three-quarters the size of Earth.

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