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Lightest exoplanet discovered April 22, 2009

Posted by Sarah in new astronomy, science.
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ESO yesterday reported the discovery of the lightest exoplanet yet. Gliese 581e, the fourth in a family of exolanets around Gliese 581, is just twice as massive as the Earth, which means it could well be rocky rather than gassy like Jupiter or Saturn. The discovery was made by a team of Swiss an French astronomers led by Michel Mayor of Geneva Observatory, who discovered of the first ever exoplanet in 1995, using ESO’s 3.6m telescope at La Silla, Chile.

But Mayor and his team added a cherry to ESO’s cake. Further study of the orbit of Gliese 581d, one of the new planet’s known siblings, has shown that the planet lies well within the host star’s so-called Habitable Zone, where the existence of liquid water is thought to be possible (though that doesn’t mean that it does!).

Nice work!

Image credit: M. House, F. Kamphues (top)

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