UH-led team finds planet similar in size, mass to Earth

By Justin Fujioka
Published On: Oct 30 2013 08:39:00 PM HST

Researchers with the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy discovers a planet similar in size and composition to Earth 400 light years away.

HONOLULU -

Hawaii is front and center in a recent discovery of an Earth-like planet.

University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy's Andrew Howard led a team of researchers that discovered an astronomical first -- the planet Kepler-78b.

Click here to watch Justin Fujioka's report.

"This is pretty close to an Earth twin," Howard said. "We've had some planets that are the size of Earth, some that are the mass of Earth. This is the first time we know that the planet is both the size, the density, the composition of the Earth."

Kepler-78b was found using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. But the UH-led team of researchers used Mauna Kea's Keck Observatory to measure its size and weight.

"We know how big it is physically, we know how much it weighs, this allows us to determine the density and to have some sort of an educated guess about what this planet's actually made out of," Howard said. "We think it's made out of rock and a little bit of iron."

Kepler-78b is some 400 light-years away from Earth, which is also made up of rock and iron.

"But there's one very important difference, which is that it's so close to its host star, that it's heated to several-thousand degrees," Howard said. "It has a lava surface and its completely uninhabitable, unlike the Earth."

It's so close to its host star, one orbit around its sun takes just eight-and-a-half hours. Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, takes 116 days.

"This is basically what would happen to the Earth if you moved it in a hundred times closer to its star, it would baked to a crisp," Howard said.

The discovery was published Wednesday in the journal "Nature."

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