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Kepler telescope discovers 'mini-Neptunes' and 'super-Earths'

By Kyle Johnson,

On Monday at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting at National Harbor in Washington, D.C., it was announced that many of the new planets being discovered by the Kepler space telescope are rocky planets.

The data, presented by University of California Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy, shows that about 85 percent of the discovered plants are essentially "super-Earths" or "mini-Neptunes," reports The Washington Post. The planets found are of sizes that do not occur in our solar system.

Many of the planets found are orbiting close to their respective stars, but potentially smaller, rocky planets could be found in more distant orbits.

According to Space.com, Kepler-99b and Kepler-406b are two rocky planets that were recently discovered and both are 40 percent larger than the Earth. Though both are rocky planets and not gas, they are too close in orbit to a star, making it low in chance that they could actually support life, due to extreme temperatures.

NASA Kepler Mission scientist Natalie Batalha at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. said, "Kepler's primary objective is to determine the prevalence of planets of varying sizes and orbits."

She added, "Of particular interest to the search for life is the prevalence of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone. But the question in the back of our minds are all planets the size of Earth rocky?"

The Post notes that what is often found by Kepler is that rocky and dense planets tend to be about twice the diameter of Earth, while bigger planets tend to be covered in gas and less dense than normal.

image: Wikimedia Commons

 
 

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