First Earth-Sized, Rocky Exoplanet Found

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

A team of astronomers has found the first Earth-sized planet outside the solar system that has a rocky composition like that of Earth. This exoplanet, known as Kepler-78b, orbits its star very closely every 8.5 hours, making it much too hot to support life. The results are being published in the journal Nature.

Artist impression of the planet Kepler-78b and its host star. Credit: Karen Teramura (UH/IfA)
This Earth-sized planet was discovered using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, and confirmed and characterized with the W. M. Keck Observatory.

Every 8.5 hours the planet passes in front of its host star, blocking a small fraction of the starlight. These telltale dimmings were picked up by researchers analyzing the Kepler data.

The team led by Dr. Andrew Howard (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Manoa) then measured the mass of the planet with the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, in Hawaii. Using the ten-meter Keck I telescope fitted with the HIRES instrument, the team employed the radial velocity method to measure how much an orbiting planet causes its star to wobble, to determine the planet’s mass. This is another excellent example of the synergy between the Kepler survey, which has identified more than 3,000 potential exoplanet candidates, and Keck Observatory, which plays a leading role in conducting precise Doppler measurements of the exoplanet candidates.

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Keck and the Hunt for Extrasolar Planets

A nice short video on Keck and the hunt to find and confirm extrasolar planets. It features regular Keck observer Nader Haghighipour from the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii talking about his research into exoplanets.

I had a chance to help out with some of the interior shots. We had to hurry as the film crew was running late and they were up against the schedule, it was time to release the telescopes to the astronomers for the night. It is nice to see the crew got the needed shots and to see the final result a few months later.

How to Hunt for New Earths from Time Video