Astronomers find first rocky planet outside solar system


Washington : A group of European astronomers said Wednesday that they had found the first known rocky planet outside the solar system.

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The find by European Southern Observatory scientists in Garching, Germany, is an important step forward in answering the question of whether humans are alone in the universe, because it is the first of the more than 300 known exoplanets – as planets outside the solar system are known – that is not large and gaseous.

CoRoT-7b has a density similar to Earth. Though the small exoplanet, CoRoT-7b, resembles Earth in many ways, it is far too hot to support life, astronomers said. It’s so close to its sun that surface temperatures could reach 2,000 degrees Celsius in the day and minus 200 degrees at night, said lead scientist Didier Queloz of Switzerland.

“In fact, CoRoT-7b is so close that the place may well look like Dante’s Inferno,” he said. “Theoretical models suggest that the planet may have lava or boiling oceans on its surface. With such extreme conditions, this planet is definitively not a place for life to develop.”

The planet is about 500 light years from Earth and orbits a young, cool star in the Monoceros constellation.

The exoplanet’s discovery was announced in February, but scientists required further examination before announcing with confidence details of its environment. They used a telescope in Chile to take very detailed measurements, determining it had a radius less than twice that of Earth and a mass five times as large.

It is the smallest exoplanet detected so far.

The findings are to be published in October in the US-based journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.