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Earth-like planet discovered

June 14, 2005 09:26 IST

A planet that may be like Earth-- but too hot for life as we know it-- has been discovered orbiting a nearby star.

The discovery of the planet, with an estimated radius about twice that of Earth, was announced on Sunday at the National Science Foundation.

"This is the smallest extra-solar planet yet detected and the first of a new class of rocky terrestrial planets," Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution in Washington said in a statement. "It's like Earth's bigger cousin."

Geoffrey Marcy, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, added: "Over 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Epicurus argued about whether there were other Earth-like planets. Now, for the first time, we have evidence for a rocky planet around a normal star."

Though the researchers have no direct proof that the new planet is rocky, its mass means it is not a giant gas planet like Jupiter, they said. They estimated the planet's mass as 5.9 to 7.5 times that of Earth.

It is orbiting a star called Gliese 876, 15 light years from Earth, with an orbit time of just 1.94 Earth days. They estimated the surface temperature on the new planet at between 400 degrees (204.44 Celsius) and 750 degrees Fahrenheit. (398.89 Celsius)

Gliese 876 is a small, red star with about one-third the mass of the sun. The researchers said this is the smallest star around which planets have been discovered. In addition to the newly found planet the star has two large gas planets around it.

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