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Research: Smaller exoplanets found to be covered in gas
by Staff Writers
Evanston, Ill. (UPI) Jan 8, 2013

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

U.S. researchers say they were surprised to find a number of exoplanets in the Milky Way that are only a few times bigger than Earth but covered in gas.

"This indicates these planets formed very quickly after the birth of their star, while there was still a gaseous disk around the star," Yoram Lithwick, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, said in a release Wednesday. "By contrast, Earth is thought to have formed much later, after the gas disk disappeared."

Measurements of the planets outside the Earth's solar system broaden scientists' knowledge of exoplanets that are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune because once their mass and size are known, density can be determined and composition can be inferred.

To measure the mass of the planets found by NASA's Kepler space telescope, Lithwick and graduate student Sam Hadden used a technique involving transit time variation, discovering planets two to three times bigger than Earth have very low density, indicating they are covered in gas.

In contrast, planets slightly smaller than these have much higher density, and are denser than rock, the research indicated. They are similar to or denser than Earth.

Lithwick presented his findings at a scientific session Monday during the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington.


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NASA Kepler Provides Insight About Enigmatic But Ubiquitous Planets, Five New Rocky Planets
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Jan 07, 2014
More than three-quarters of the planet candidates discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft have sizes ranging from that of Earth to that of Neptune, which is nearly four times as big as Earth. Such planets dominate the galactic census but are not represented in our own solar system. Astronomers don't know how they form or if they are made of rock, water or gas. The Kepler team today reports ... read more

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