At last scientists have confirmed that rocky planets like Earth and Mars exist outside our solar system. Until this week, we've only seen gas giants like Jupiter orbiting distant stars. But the existence of planet COROT-7b changes all that.
COROT-7b revolves around the star COROT-7, 500 light years from Earth. Its diameter is twice that of our planet, and its temperatures are rather extreme. Its orbit falls so close to COROT that COROT-7b's average daily temperature is 2,000 degrees Celsius, and negative 200 at night.
According to Wired Science:
Whipping around [its sun] at a record-breaking speed of 750,000 kilometers per hour, the planet's extreme environment may include lava or boiling oceans on its surface. Because this is the first exoplanet of its kind, researchers don't know quite what to expect.
Though our Earth-centric, carbon-centric, biology-centric scientists think that rocky planets are more likely than gas giants to support life, COROT-7b has them shaking their heads. Apparently the intense temperature shifts and boiling oceans aren't good for developing life. But COROT-7b has a sister planet, COROT-7c, that might be more habitable.
In the end, what this discovery tells us is that rocky planets aren't terribly unusual in the universe. Of course if Iain M. Banks' scenario in The Algebraist is correct, and the greatest civilizations thrive only on gas giants, this really doesn't do us much good.
via Wired Science
Image of COROT-7b via ESO/L.