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Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World Suggests Such Planets May Be Common

Artists conception
Artist's concept of the newfound rocky planet circling a distant star.

Using a relatively new planet-hunting technique that can spot worlds one-tenth the mass of our own, researchers have discovered a potentially rocky, icy body that may be the smallest planet yet found orbiting a star outside our solar system.

The discovery suggests the technique, gravitational microlensing, may be an exceptional technology for finding distant planets with traits that could support life.

This important research, partly funded by NASA, is providing us the opportunity to search for planets in habitable environments," said Zlatan Tsvetanov, Terrestrial Planet Finder program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "The results successfully demonstrate the power of gravitational microlensing, currently the only ground-based technique with the sensitivity to detect extrasolar Earth-size planets on Earth-like orbits, and provide an important clue of the ubiquity of small planets."

More: NASA - Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World