Earth-sized ‘lava planet’ has an 8.5-hour-long year

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

fire pillar
Molten flames must soar into the air on the Kepler-78b planet!

By definition, a year is how much time it takes for a planet to orbit a sun. For the Earth, that takes approximately 365 days (or 366 on a leap year!). Since Mercury is much closer to the Sun, a year on this speedy planet is only 88 days long. Imagine how quickly the school year would finish! Well, that’s nothing compared to the new Earth-sized planet astronomers recently discovered. It’s so close to its star, that a year only takes 8.5 hours!

Usually, astronomers search for Jupiter-sized planets (which are easy to spot) orbiting in what is known as the “habitable zone” – a zone just close enough to a sun for water to exist. Finding planets with H20 potentially means discovering other intelligent beings, or at least a new home planet if we ever use up our own resources!

The researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to focus their search on planets with smaller orbits, when they discovered this new planet. According to estimates, the planet – formally named the Kepler-78b – is six times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun! That proximity definitely comes with a price, though. Astronomers are calling it a ‘lava planet,’ since temperatures range anywhere between 3,680 – 5,120 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s so hot, researchers estimate the entire surface of the planet is an ocean of molten-hot lava! Phew, someone get me a fan, I’m sweating just thinking about all that heat.

For now, researchers are hoping to figure out what the alien planet is made of, but they’re quite certain it’s made of rock rather than gas.

Images courtesy of Brent Nelson on Flickr.