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NASA Discovers Smallest Planet Yet

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By Gopi Chandra Kharel | February 21, 2013 8:06 PM EST

NASA scientists have discovered a new planetary system which hosts the smallest planet discovered so far.

The tiny planet dubbed as Kepler-37b measures about one-third the size of the Earth and only slightly larger than our moon. It is smaller than the Mercury.

The planet was discovered by NASA's Kepler mission which aims to find Earth-sized planets around what is known as the "habitable zone," the region within a planetary system in which liquid water might exist. In their probe, the scientist came by the tiny planet along with two of its companion planets orbiting around a star similar to our sun. However, finding life there will never be as easy as finding the planets.

The Kepler-37b which is rocky in its composition has no atmosphere and will not support life, NASA scientists have revealed in a press release.  Kepler-37c, the neighboring planet, is slightly smaller than Venus while the planet situated farthest, Kepler-37d, is twice the size of the Earth.

The star around which this newly discovered planet rotates is similar to our Sun although slightly smaller and cooler. All the three plants revolve around their sun at a distance less than the distance between the Sun and Mercury making them extremely hot and inhospitable worlds. Kepler-37b orbits every 13 days and has a temperature of more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit (426 C) which would be enough to melt the zinc in a penny, scientists say.

"We uncovered a planet smaller than any in our solar system orbiting one of the few stars that is both bright and quiet, where signal detection was possible," said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, Calif., and the lead author of the new study published in the journal Nature. "This discovery shows close-in planets can be smaller, as well as much larger, than planets orbiting our sun." 

Kepler is NASA's tenth Discovery Mission and was funded by Science Mission Directorate at NASA's headquarters, Washington. 

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