Water world just 6.5 times more massive than Earth called GJ 1214b discovered by eight off-the-shelf 16 inch telescopes
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Another day, another extrasolar super-Earth has been discovered. This one is only 6.5 times more massive than Earth (45% the mass of Oranos/Uranus). The star it orbits is a dim red dwarf star and it has an orbital distance of just 2 million kilometres, so in terms of both mass and distance it's close to what I suspect the first announced Earth-like planets will be like. Reduce its mass and move it a tad farther away from its star and you might have conditions similar to our own, though of course perhaps with tidal locking.
As for what a 16-inch telescope looks like, here's a photo I found here. Just take eight of these and you can discover your own planet.
The article also mentions how another observatory was then used to help find the mass of the planet after its diameter had first been determined, which is particularly exciting (and often written about here) because constructing an observatory is much, much cheaper than running a national space program, so it's a very easy way for smaller or less prosperous countries to directly contribute to what we know about the universe without breaking the bank. Once Earth-like planets are discovered I suspect we will see an increase in the number of countries and academic institutions building observatories specifically to contribute to the further discovery and categorization of these planets we will want to know so much about.
As for the exact date when Kepler's first findings will be discovered - it will take place between the 3rd and 7th of January.