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Astronomers discover new planet
www.chinaview.cn 2006-03-14 14:09:28

    BEIJING, March 14 (Xinhuanet) -- New Zealand researchers discovered a new planet 13 times as much as Earth in a solar system 9,000 light-year away, according to the latest Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    The discovery is billed as a super-Earth because it is thought to be a rocky, terrestrial planet like Earth, even though it is much more massive.

    Astronomers believe that the icy, rocky planet is similar in composition to Earth. Initial analysis suggests that, like Earth, it has a rocky core.

    Scientists figured the new planet probably has a temperature of minus 330 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 166 degrees Celsius), making it one of the coldest planets detected outside our solar system.

    The planet is orbiting a star about 9,000 light-years away. But instead of circling close to its star, as Earth does, this "super-Earth" is about as distant from its star as Jupiter and Saturn are from the sun.

    Astronomers were able to find the planet by taking readings during gravitational microlensing in the galaxy.

    Gravitational microlensing takes place when a massive object, such as a star, passes in front of another object. The passing object's gravity bends the light from the background star and magnifies it like a lens so that it appears brighter.

    Although invisible to the astronomers, the object's gravity is sufficient to betray its presence through "tiny warping" of the starlight and radiation.

    Andrew Gould, professor of astronomy at Ohio State University, said the discovery was exciting. "It appears to be a terrestrial planet of rock and ice. The implication is that these icy super-Earths are pretty common."

    It is the first time that such a planet has been found occupying the same region of a solar system as the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn do in ours. Enditem

(Agencies)

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