NASA scientists are celebrating the discovery of our solar system’s closest next-door neighbor, HD 219134b, a rocky super-Earth — classified as such because it is bigger than Earth.
NASA broke the news this past Thursday via a press release from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.
Avid sky-gazers who hope to see the planet with their naked eye or with a telescope are out of luck, the organization said. However, the planet orbits a star which is visible by night-sky enthusiasts, NASA noted.
According to the organization, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was able to detect that the planet is rocky by measuring its size and its density.
One NASA source quoted for the press release said that, in space distance, 21 light years makes the rocky planet the equivalent of a next-door neighbor.
The significance of the discovery isn’t just a matter of finding out which planets lurk outside Earth’s galactic subdivision — NASA quoted scientist Micheal Gillon, who helps with the telescope which detected the planet, as saying the planet is a “local specimen.”
Now we have a local specimen to study in greater detail. It can be considered a kind of Rosetta Stone for the study of super-Earths.
Tech website CNET featured the NASA press release in their recent story about the discovery. The article mentioned the fact that NASA’s Kepler satellite mission recently revealed a new planet, but that the Kepler plan is much farther away from Earth than HD 219134b.
CNET reporter Amanda Kooser said scientist know that HD can’t “support life.”
Scientists don’t know if the new Kepler discovery can support life, but they know HD 219134b is too close to its star for us to consider setting up a colony there.
While life can’t be supported on 219134b, scientists are more hopeful that life could exist on the planet Kepler recently discovered.