"In a discovery that has left one expert stunned, European astronomers have found one of the smallest planets known outside our solar system, a world about 14 times the mass of our own around a star much like the Sun.Well, this is contra to what I read just a few weeks ago - wish I could remember where or who - wherein a scientist predicted that the multiple planetary solar system we live in could be unique, and that all the other stars would probably have just a gas giant in orbit, or words to that effect.
It could be a rocky planet with a thin atmosphere, a sort of 'super Earth,' the researchers said today.
But this is no typical Earth. It completes its tight orbit in less than 10 days, compared to the 365 required for our year. Its daytime face would be scorched."
The star is like our Sun and just 50 light-years away. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers). Most of the known extrasolar planets are hundreds or thousands of light-years distant.So, I guess we can't plan to vacation there anytime soon, but still, a pretty cool find, and so close to us - cosmically speaking.
The star, mu Arae, is visible under dark skies from the Southern Hemisphere. It harbors two other planets. One is Jupiter-sized and takes 650 days to make its annual trip around the star. The other planet, whose existence was confirmed with the help of the new observations, is farther out.
The three-planet setup, with one being rocky, is unique.
"It's much closer to our solar system than anything we've found so far," said Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.
"This really is an exciting discovery," said Boss, who was not involved in the work. "I'm still somewhat stunned they have such good data."