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Beyond Earthly Skies

An Extremely Low Density Super-Earth

10 Oct 2013, 07:00 UTC
An Extremely Low Density Super-Earth
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The main objective of NASA’s Kepler space telescope is to determine the frequency of Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars. Analysis of the data collected by Kepler has already revealed a wide diversity of Earth mass and super-Earth mass planets. These planets have masses ranging from ~1 to ~10 times Earth’s mass. Using data collected by Kepler together with follow-up observations by ground-based telescopes, Aviv Ofir et al. (2013) report the discovery of a gas giant and a very low density super-Earth around the star Kepler-87. The gas giant is identified as Kepler-87b while the low density super-Earth is identified as Kepler-87c.Kepler detects planets by looking for the tell-tale signature when a planet passes in front of its parent star and blocks some of the star’s light. It allows the planet’s size to be directly measured since a larger planet will block more of the star’s light than a smaller planet. Because Kepler-87b is a gas giant, it has a deeper transit depth (i.e. blocks more of the light from its star) than Kepler-87c. Based on the transit depths, Kepler-87b measures 13.49 ± 0.55 Earth radii and Kepler-87c measures 6.14 ± 0.29 Earth radii.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of a super-Earth with ...

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