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

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In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have identified an exoplanet of extraordinary proportions, Kepler-10c, colloquially referred to as the "Godzilla of Earths." This massive rocky world, weighing an astonishing 17 times the mass of Earth, challenges conventional assumptions about planetary formation.

Traditionally, astronomers theorized that a planet of such magnitude would inevitably capture hydrogen gas during its formation, transforming it into a gas giant akin to Jupiter. However, Kepler-10c, with a diameter 2.3 times larger than Earth, stands as a unique exception to this expectation.

Located approximately 560 light-years away in the Draco constellation, Kepler-10c completes an orbit around its star every 45 days. The detection of this colossal celestial body was facilitated by NASA's Kepler spacecraft, utilizing the transit method, which measures the dimming of a star as a planet transits across it. While the size of Kepler-10c was discerned through this technique, its composition—whether predominantly rocky or gaseous—remained uncertain.

To address this enigma, researchers deployed the HARPS-North instrument on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands to gauge Kepler-10c's mass. The findings unequivocally confirmed the planet's rocky nature, signaling a departure from the anticipated trajectory of gas giant development for a planet of such magnitude.

What adds to the significance of this discovery is the age of the Kepler-10 system, estimated at 11 billion years. This implies that Kepler-10c formed within a relatively short time frame, less than 3 billion years after the birth of the universe. In the early universe, characterized by an abundance of hydrogen and helium, the heavy elements necessary for the formation of rocky planets were thought to originate in the first generation of stars.

Kepler-10c, however, challenges the prevailing understanding by showcasing that rocky planets could form in spite of the scarcity of heavy elements, contrary to the previously held notion of a lengthy billion-year process. This revelation suggests that Earth-like planets might have emerged far earlier in cosmic history than previously assumed, raising intriguing possibilities for the existence of life in older star systems. The implications of the Kepler-10c discovery were unveiled during a press conference at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting.


1- What is the traditional expectation for a planet of Kepler-10c's magnitude?

2- How was the size of Kepler-10c determined?

3- What does Kepler-10c's age suggest about the formation of rocky planets?


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