An Extraordinary Discovery: Kepler-10c and New Insights into Planet Formation

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A colossal exoplanet, Kepler-10c, has recently been discovered by scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts. Dubbed the "Godzilla of Earths," this rocky behemoth weighs as much as 17 Earths. The peculiar aspect of Kepler-10c lies in defying scientists' expectations. Typically, planets of this size are expected to accumulate hydrogen gas and evolve into gas giants similar to Jupiter. However, Kepler-10c, with a diameter 2.3 times that of Earth, challenges this assumption.

Situated 560 light-years away in the Draco constellation, Kepler-10c completes an orbit around its star every 45 days. The discovery was made using NASA's Kepler spacecraft, employing the transit method to measure the dimming of a star when a planet passes in front of it. While scientists determined its size through this method, it was unclear whether Kepler-10c was rocky or gaseous.

To resolve this ambiguity, researchers utilized the HARPS-North instrument on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands to measure the planet's mass. The results showed that Kepler-10c weighs 17 times more than Earth, confirming its rocky composition. The surprising element is that this exoplanet, part of the Kepler-10 system aged at 11 billion years, challenges the conventional understanding of planet formation.

Given its age, which is less than 3 billion years after the universe's creation, Kepler-10c formed in a time when the universe primarily contained hydrogen and helium. Heavy elements required for rocky planets were believed to form in the early stars, later dispersed through space by their explosive deaths, influencing subsequent generations of stars and planets.

However, the presence of Kepler-10c challenges the previous notion that rocky planets could only form with an abundance of heavy elements over billions of years. This discovery opens the possibility that Earth-like planets could have formed much earlier than previously thought, suggesting that the potential for life may exist in older star systems. The implications of Kepler-10c were unveiled at a press conference during the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting.


1- What method was used to discover Kepler-10c?

2- How does Kepler-10c defy scientists' expectations?

3- What is the age of the Kepler-10 system?


You have completed the comprehension questions. 

Parts of this lesson are based on: An article Engoo Daily News..