Post image for Kepler telescope finds first rocky planet beyond the Milky Way

Kepler telescope finds first rocky planet beyond the Milky Way

by Jorge Hernandez on January 11, 2011

NASA's Kepler space telescope made significant progress in its three-year mission to find life on distant planets when it spotted Kepler-10b, the smallest rocky planet to be discovered outside our solar system.

However, the planet, which is only 40 percent larger than Earth, orbits too closely around its star to support any life, as its surface is estimated to be around 2,500 degrees, more than three times as hot as molten iron.

Many planets have been found outside the Milky Way, but most have been large and gassy, according to NPR.

Kepler has so far discovered seven exoplanets, but researchers at NASA say that this most recent find is the first "unquestionably rocky exoplanet" and that it's "one more link in the chain of finding Earth-like ones," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Kepler 10-b was discovered 560 light years away from our solar system by the detection of a minuscule decrease in light that occurs when the planet passes in front of the star, which happens once every 84 days.

"You've got 10,000 light bulbs and you take just one away – that's the brightness change we're trying to measure," Kepler deputy science team leader Natalie Batalha said on Monday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, according to NPR.

Batalha and her team had been measuring these dips in light for eight months beginning in May 2009, after which they sent the information to researchers at the Keck telescope in Hawaii, who then detected the small planet.

According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, the Kepler launched in March 2009 and surveys 100,000 stars as the first telescope with the capability to detect small, Earth-like planets. Researchers believe this is the first of many similar planets they will discover over the next few years.

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