January 12th, 2011
06:19 AM ET

Meet a Planet Hunter

NASA’s Kepler mission has found the smallest planet outside our solar system. Its name, Kepler-10b, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But you’ll definitely want to remember it. Scientists are calling Kepler-10b the “missing link” in the search for Earth’s twin.

An artist's rendering of Kepler-10b. NASA image

That's because most discoveries have been large and gaseous planets... like Saturn or Jupiter in our solar system. But Kepler-10b is different. It’s rocky, like Earth, meaning we would be able to stand on it. There’s just one little problem. Kepler-10b has the right composition… but it doesn’t fall into what’s known as the “Goldilocks zone.” That would be an area that’s not too hot and not too cold.

Kepler-10b orbits 3.2 million kilometers away from its star. That's more than 20 times closer than Mercury is to our sun! Temperatures on this new planet can exceed 1,371 degrees Celsius,  hot enough to melt iron. Not exactly an ideal place for life as we know it... but we're getting warmer. (Unfortunately, too warm this time!)

So how do we know all this about an object some 560 light-years away from us? Listen to Kristie’s conversation with planet hunter Natalie Batalha below.

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Filed under: General • Space