Finding little planets with new technology

On January 10, 2011, NASA confirmed that the Kepler space telescope had found its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Kepler-10b is really small, the smallest planet yet discovered outside of our solar system, at 1.4 times the size of Earth.

The discovery of Kepler-10b was made possible by some major advances in technology:

  • the ability to put the Kepler telescope into space
  • an ultra-precise photometer on the Kepler telescope that allows it to measure tiny decreases in stars’ brightnesses
  • the huge analytical power of computers needed to decipher the signal from the noise

Although Kepler-10b isn’t in the habitable zone of its star, Kepler-10, it does show us the power of technology to find more small planets, some of which may be more Earth-like and have the ability to support life.

You can explore the transit method–how the Kepler telescope detects planets–in our space investigation “Is there life outside of Earth?