Astronomers Use Backyard Telescopes to Discover a Super-Earth

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - 13:07 in Astronomy & Space

The newly discovered exoplanet could soon lead to more likely candidates for habitable planets Astronomers have discovered perhaps the first "super-Earth" with an atmosphere, and say that there's a strong possibility of the planet having liquid water on its surface. That's still no Earth, but it's darn close compared to other known exoplanets. Perhaps equally stunning was the method of discovery -- astronomers simply used a small array of 16-inch telescopes that any amateur stargazer could have in their garage or backyard. The new world orbits a red dwarf star just 50 light years away from Earth, and became visible to Earth-based telescopes during a planetary eclipse when it passed in front of its relatively dim star. That crucial moment allowed astronomers to not only spot the super-Earth, but also to calculate the planet's size and mass. They even hope to figure out the chemical makeup of the planetary atmosphere, based on...

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