Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Nice! It turns out that COROT-7b, discovered in February 2009, is a terrestrial planet like our own, and also like Venus and Mercury. It is still quite a bit more massive than us, with a mass five times that of Earth, and its orbits is also quite different, only 2.5 million km from its star (we're located at 145 million km away) and with a single orbit only taking 20.4 hours. So it's certainly not the second Earth we are waiting for, but it's nevertheless of a tantalizingly close size and mass.
When COROT-7b was first discovered we knew right away that this wasn't a planet like Earth (in terms of climate), and so there wasn't as much press attention as was given to Gliese 581c when it was discovered, as it there was speculation for a few days that even though it was quite a bit larger than the Earth that it might have a climate like ours, and therefore perhaps life. You can see quite a bit difference between the attention given to the two: here's COROT compared with Gliese, and Vanuatu (a pretty small country) for comparison.
E is when COROT-7b was discovered, D was when Gliese 581-c was. So there really is no comparison in the amount of interest garnered when a) a planet is discovered (eh, kind of interesting) and b) a planet is discovered that might be like ours.
Now imagine how much attention a planet will receive that is confirmed to be more or less just like ours. The attention given to that will make the spike at D in the graph look like the blip at E by comparison.