For many years now, astronomers have been searching for a planet outside of our solar system that has a similar composition to Earth. However the 330 extrasolar planets discovered so far, have either been composed of gas or been to far to ascertain the make-up.
Earlier this week, a team of European astronomers revealed that they may have found one that is that is made up of solid rock, just like our planet. Dubbed CoRot-7b, the planet is about the same size as Earth and has a similar mass structure.
Situated about 500 light years away, CoRot-7b revolves in the constellation Unicorn and cannot be viewed via conventional telescopes. In order to determine its mass and composition, the astronomers used an instrument known as a High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), which is situated at La Silia laboratory in Chile.
While CoRot-7b also revolves around its sun, it is much closer to it - 1.5 million miles vs. the Earth, which is 93 million miles away. Zipping around at speeds exceeding 466,000 mph CoRot-7b completes its entire orbit around its sun in 20 hours. In contrast Mercury, the planet closest to our sun, takes 88 days to complete the orbit!
Because of this proximity to its sun, CoRot-7b has temperatures exceeding 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that no life can survive on this 'lava' planet. However, the discovery is extremely exciting since it is one of the few rock-based extrasolar planets found. This opens up the possibility that similar planets may exist in the same system and if they are further away, they may even be able to sustain life. Watch out aliens, here come the earthlings!
sources: moneytimes.com, timesonline.com