By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
NASA’s Kepler space telescope has been on a mission to find Earth-like planets since its launch in 2009. In that time, the spacecraft has found evidence for hundreds of planets, some of which may have water – a necessary ingredient for life. Now, in a historic discovery, Kepler has found evidence of a rocky world that has 17 times the Earth’s mass!
While Super-Earths have been discovered that have a mass higher than Earth but much less than smaller gas giants like Uranus and Neptune, this new planet is in a size category of its own. Classified as a “Mega-Earth”, the beastly rock formed about 11 billion years ago, which is before scientists thought rocky planets even existed!
Also, until now, astronomers thought that planets couldn’t be that big without turning into a gas giant like Jupiter, since heavy masses create tons of gas-attracting gravity. What’s even more surprising, is that researchers can’t find any gas around the Mega-Earth – not even a little bit of hydrogen and helium!
The Mega-Earth, named Kepler-10c, is breaking all the rules in a way that’s making scientists very excited by the discovery. After all, it means that they can expand their search for Earth-like planets that don’t necessarily fit into old ideas about what’s possible for a rocky sun-orbiting mass. Who knows how many planets they dismissed already because they didn’t meet old standards?
Featured image courtesy of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and David Aguilar. Image of Kepler space telescope courtesy of NASA.