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Newly Discovered “Mega-Earth” Has High Potential For Life

| by Paul Brown

A new planet has been discovered that shatters the model of what modern science thought to be possible in terms of planet formation. A rocky planet 17 times the mass of Earth was just found 560 light-years away (not all that far on a cosmic scale) in the constellation Draco. 

Up until now, scientists had thought that any planet with such a great mass would attract too much hydrogen to remain solid, making it a gas giant not unlike Jupiter or Saturn. That assumption has now been disproved and scientists are on the prowl for other enormous Earth-like planets.

Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative remarked, “This is the Godzilla of Earths!” but added that, “unlike the movie monster, Kepler 10-c has positive implications for life”. 

Discovered by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, this “Godzilla”-like version of Earth has a rather fast orbit (it takes Kepler-10c just 45 days to orbit around its sun) and is thought to have an atmosphere and thin clouds. These latter two factors are indeed a positive implication for life. 

In addition to the planet’s mass, there were other factors that would have led scientists to assume that the planet could not have been rocky. For instance, the solar system in which the planet formed is roughly 11 billion years old- less than 3 billion years after the Big Bang. Until now, it was thought that the complex elements needed for rocks and other solids to form did not exist in the universe at that time, at least in quantities large enough to constitute a planet. 

According to Harvard, “Kepler-10c shows that the universe was able to form such huge rocks even during the time when heavy elements were scarce.” 

This finding could mean that older solar systems can potentially host life, a concept not thought possible before the discovery of Kepler-10c.

Sources: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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