Aug 19, 2013 03:32 PM EDT
Kepler 78b Exoplanet Discovered by MIT Scientists Orbits its Sun in 8.5 Hours
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered a small exoplanet that completes a year in eight-and-a-half hours, according to a news release.
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The planet, named Kepler 78b, is about the size of Earth, but lies 700 light years away. It rotates around its host star in the time many Americans complete a full day of work. It is able to do this because of how close it is to the star, also resulting in surface temperatures of 3,000 degrees Kelvin.
Kepler 78b is one of the fastest orbiting planets ever detected and scientists hope to soon get a closer look to accurately determine its mass, surface composition and gravitational qualities.
The researchers detailed their discovery of Kepler 78b in the Astrophysical Journal. MIT researchers published another paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters detailing another planet with an even faster rotation of four-and-a-half hours.
"Just the fact that it's able to survive there implies that it's very dense," says Josh Winn, an associate professor of physics at MIT, and co-author on both papers. "Whether nature actually makes planets that are dense enough to survive even closer in, that's an open question, and would be even more amazing."
The Kepler 78b discovery team looked through the nearly 150,000 stars discovered by the recently retired Kepler telescope. Winn and his team's goal was to find planets with the shortest orbit time.
"We've gotten used to planets having orbits of a few days," Winn says. "But we wondered, what about a few hours? Is that even possible? And sure enough, there are some out there."
To spot the planets, they had to look for temporary dropouts of light, when the planet would cross behind its star. The scientists had to measure the amount of time in which the light dimmed to detect the planet that was in orbit.
"I was just looking by eye, and all of a sudden I see this extra drop of light right when it was expected, and it was really beautiful," MIT physics graduate student Roberto
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Sanchis-Ojeda said. "I thought, we're actually seeing the light from the planet. It was a really exciting moment."