NASA scientists announced the discovery of a massive ‘super-Earth’ planet located 180 Light Years from our Earth, discovered by using the planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope spacecraft. The new planet is about two and a half times the size of Earth with diameter of approximately 20,000 miles. It is estimated to be 12 times as massive as the Earth. Such large planets do not exist in our solar system.
A new planet circles a star about 180 light-years from the Earth and is unlivable with a thick atmosphere or a water world. During a test run with the telescope in early 2014, a team of astrophysicists led by Andrew Vanderburg detected a planet passing in front of a star dubbed as HIP 116454. Follow-up observations with the Canadian MOST satellite and ground-based telescopes confirmed the presence of this planet.
The new planet is in the Pisces constellation. Vanderburg, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the lead author of a study, said the new discovery is ripe for follow-up studies. He also pointed about reactivation of Kepler and compared it with a phoenix rising from the ashes.
NASA launched Kepler in March 2009 to discover how often Earth-like planets occur around the Milky Way. So far it has confirmed almost 1,000 such planets and more than 3,500 exoplanets. However, in 2013, one of the reaction wheels broke down, which was essential to keep the telescope pointed. Engineers knocked the success in stabilizing the spacecraft by using the pressure of sunlight on its solar panels.
In November 2013, NASA announced that Kepler could remain in operations for at least next three to four years. The spacecraft has significantly contributed in broadening the understanding of the abundance of habitable, Earth-size planets in the Milky Way. It also revolutionized the understanding of the internal structures of the stars through asteroseismology.