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Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-28-2013, 10:51 PM
Strange New Worlds: The Amazing Alien Planet Discoveries of 2013


By by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
8 hours ago

Strange New Worlds: The Amazing Alien Planet Discoveries of 2013
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Data from NASA's Kepler mission finds evidence for at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy. Image


While astronomers didn't bag that elusive first "alien Earth" in 2013, they made plenty of exciting exoplanet discoveries during the past year.

Here's a list of the top exoplanet finds of 2013, from a tiny world about the size of Earth's moon to a blue gas giant on which it rains molten glass:

The smallest exoplanet

In February, astronomers announced the discovery of Kepler-37b, the smallest alien world ever found around a sun-like star. The planet is about 2,400 miles (3,900 kilometers) wide, making it just slightly larger than Earth's moon. [9 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]

Kepler-37b, which was spotted by NASA's prolific Kepler space telescope, lies about 215 light-years from Earth. The exoplanet is likely far too hot to host life as we know it; it zips around its parent star once every 13 days.

The most Earthlike world yet

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Strange New Worlds: The Amazing Alien Planet Discoveries …
An artist's conception of the tiny alien planet Kepler-37b, which is slightly larger than Earth&

Also this year, researchers found the closest thing to an Earth twin in size and composition, though it's far too hot to support life as we know it.

Kepler-78b is just 20 percent wider and about 80 percent more massive than our planet, with a density nearly identical to that of Earth. The alien world, which is about 400 light-years from Earth, lies just 900,000 miles (1.5 million km) from its host star and completes one orbit every 8.5 hours. Surface temperatures on Kepler-78b likely top 3,680 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius), researchers say.

1,000 alien planets

Astronomers found the first-ever planets orbiting a star other than our sun in 1992. And in 2013, barely two decades later, they notched alien world number 1,000 at least according to some tallies.

Two of the five main databases that catalog alien-planet discoveries passed the 1,000 mark this year, with both the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia and the Exoplanets Catalog, run by theUniversity of Puerto Rico at Arecibo's Planetary Habitability Laboratory, recording 1,056 alien worlds as of today (Dec. 26).
Astronomers using Japan's Subaru Telescope in Hawaii managed to photograph GJ 504b, a gas giant about the size of Jupiter. That's pretty big, but GJ 504b is still the smallest alien world ever to be imaged directly.

Researchers hope this milestone marks one technological step toward the ultimate prize snapping a photo of an Earth-size (and Earth-like) alien world. Such a feat may be possible in the next decade or two, some experts say.

'Alien Earths' should exist nearby

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Kepler-7b is 1.5 times the radius of Jupiter, but less than half as massive. Scientists have determi

A study published early this year estimated that a truly Earth-like alien planet likely exists within 13 light-years of our own solar system a mere stone's throw in the cosmic scheme of things.

The study analyzed Kepler observations of red dwarfs, which make up about 75 percent of the Milky Way's 100 billion or so stars. Six percent of red dwarfs should host Earth-like planets, according to the study meaning that our galaxy likely harbors at least 4.5 billion "Earth twins."