Astronomers using NASA’s Kepler mission have detected two Earth-sized planets orbiting a distant star. This discovery marks a milestone in the hunt for alien worlds, since it brings scientists one step closer to their ultimate goal of finding a twin Earth.
The two planets, dubbed Kepler-20e and 20f, are the smallest planets found to date. They have diameters of 6,900 miles and 8,200 miles – equivalent to 0.87 times Earth (slightly smaller than Venus) and 1.03 times Earth. These worlds are expected to have rocky compositions, so their masses should be less than 1.7 and 3 times Earth’s.
Both worlds circle Kepler-20: a G-type star slightly cooler than the Sun and located 950 light-years from Earth. Kepler-20e orbits every 6.1 days at a distance of 4.7 million miles. Kepler-20f orbits every 19.6 days at a distance of 10.3 million miles. Due to their tight orbits, they are heated to temperatures of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (760 °C)and 800 degrees F (430 °C).
In addition to the two Earth-sized worlds, the Kepler-20 system contains three larger planets. All five have orbits closer than Mercury in our solar system. They also show an unexpected arrangement. In our solar system small, rocky worlds orbit close to the Sun and large, gas giant worlds orbit farther out. In contrast, the planets of Kepler-20 are organized in alternating size: big, little, big, little, big. Learn more here, here, here, here or here.