The new planet is similar to Mars and orbits a red dwarf star. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Astronomers have identified a planet the size of Mars orbiting a star 200 light years from the Earth.
One of the smallest extrasolar planets ever discovered, this tiny distant world orbits the red dwarf star Kepler-138 and is also thought to have two neighboring planets around the size of the Earth.
Due to its size and distance its discovery is equivalent to locating a pin as far away as the moon.
"We’ve been able to tease out both the size and mass of this planet," said Dr Jason Rowe of the SETI Institute. "Therefore, we know its average density, and find that it is consistent with Mars in our own solar system."
"Exoplanets come in all sizes and masses. Some are rocky spheres like Venus, Earth and Mars, but others are puffed up gas balls. So it’s interesting to see that, at least in this case, a Mars-size planet could really be Mars-like."
Unfortunately given its distance from its parent star the new planet is unlikely to support life but there is still a lot that scientists can learn by studying the Kepler-138 system.
Of particular interest is the way the planets interfere with each other's orbits and time-keeping.
"Any extraterrestrials living in these systems would have to be expert watch makers, because the length of their year is always changing," said Dr. Rowe.
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