Friday, April 10, 2009

An international team of astrophysicists has discovered a new planet five times the size of Earth, the smallest extrasolar planet revealed to date outside of our solar system.

Using a network of telescopes scattered across the globe, the group discovered the extrasolar planet is more Earth-like than any other planet found so far. It circles its parent star every 10 years. The discovery opens a new chapter in the search for planets that support life.

“That fact that we stumbled on one means there are thousands of them out there,” said Kem Cook, an astronomer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who is also a member of PLANET (Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork), a part of the group that made the discovery. “It’s got a solid core. Its mass is low enough that it couldn’t hold itself together if it were just gas,” Cook said.

The new planet and its red dwarf parent star lies in the constellation Sagittarius, not far from the central bulge of our galaxy.