Astronomer David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics briefed journalists on an embargoed basis before his team's major discovery was published in the December 17 issue of the journal Nature. They discovered a "super-Earth" orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. They found the distant planet with a small fleet of ground-based telescopes no larger than those many amateur astronomers have in their backyards. Although the super-Earth is too hot to sustain life as we know it, the discovery shows that current, ground-based technologies are capable of finding almost-Earth-sized planets in warm, life-friendly orbits. Charbonneau was NSF's 2009 Alan T. Waterman Awardee.
Credit: National Science Foundation/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
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