Scientists Have Discovered the Largest Rocky Exoplanet to Date and It’s Even Bigger Than You'd Think

Saturday, 20 February 2016 - 8:11PM
Astrophysics
Science News
Saturday, 20 February 2016 - 8:11PM
Scientists Have Discovered the Largest Rocky Exoplanet to Date and It’s Even Bigger Than You'd Think
The Kepler Spacecraft has struck again. A group of scientists from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago recently reported the discovery of the largest rocky exoplanet to date, a find made using the famed Kepler telescope, a spacecraft designed with the specific purpose of identifying exoplanets.

The name of the planet is BD+20594b, and it has a diameter that's half the size of Neptune and a mass that's 16 times that of the Earth. To put into perspective how significant of a find this is, consider the fact that scientists previously believed that a rocky exoplanet couldn't get this big -- the previous record holder being Kepler 10-c, which had a radius only over twice that of Earth. Of course, it's not like scientists have the ability to observe distant solar systems like they can this one, and prior observations had led them to believe that terrestrial planets simply don't grow to the size demonstrated by BD+20594b. It looks like this is going to be yet another discovery to rewrite the textbooks!

BD+20594b also has a density of 8 prams per cubic centimeter - Earth only has 5.514. So it not only beats earth in radius and mass, but also in its density as well. The planet belongs to the constellation Aries, over 500 light years away.

This isn't the first time that the Kepler's made a historic discovery such as this, and it probably won't be the last. The spacecraft revolutionized astronomy in a big way, as it was individually responsible for finding hundreds upon hundreds of exoplanets. It's had a rocky road since its launch in 2009, and there's been a few times where malfunctions worried scientists into believing that its days might be up. Yet 7 years later its still there, making groundbreaking finds such as this one.

Hopefully it can continue its mission until at least 2018, when the James Webb Space Telescope is supposed to launch. One of its primary purposes will be not only fining exoplanets, but sniffing their atmospheres in hopes of finding which ones could be habitable, leading to yet another new era of astronomic discoveries.
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