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Kepler's First Rocky Planet (Kepler-10b)
01.10.11
 
Natalie Batalha, Deputy Science Team Lead
Read her biography
Download her slides [19.5 MB PPT]
Download the paper, Kepler's First Rocky Planet: Kepler-10b [3.96 MB PDF]

Planet Kepler-10b Transiting Its Host Star (Artist's Depiction)
Image credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc., Kepler Mission, NASA Ames Click image for full-resolution.
Kepler-10b orbits one of the 150,000 stars that the spacecraft is monitoring between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra. We aim our mosaic of 42 detectors there, under the swan’s wing, just above the plane of the Milky Way galaxy. The star itself is very similar to our own sun in temperature, mass and size, but older with an age of over 8 billion years, compared to the 4-and-1/2 billion years of our own sun. It’s a quiet star, slowly spinning with a weak magnetic field and few of the sun spots that characterize our own sun. The star’s about 560 light years from our solar system and one of the brighter stars that Kepler is monitoring. It was the first we identified as potentially harboring a very small transiting planet. The transits of the planet were first seen in July of 2009.

The diameter of Kepler-10b is only about 1.4 times the diameter of Earth and it's mass is about 4.5 times that of Earth. It is the best example of a rocky planet to date.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry

Planet Kepler-10b in Orbit (Artist's Depiction)
Image credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc., Kepler Mission, NASA Ames Click image for full-resolution.
Planet Kepler-10b is orbiting it star about 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our own Sun. It takes less than one Earth day to orbit its star! The daytime temperature’s expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than lava flows here on Earth. It is the smallest exoplanet (a planet located outside our solar system) discovered to date. All of Kepler’s best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a solid planet orbiting a star other than our Sun.

Knowledge of the planet is only as good as the knowledge of the star it orbits. Scientists of the Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium (KASC) were able to detect high frequency variations in the star’s brightness generated by stellar oscillations, or “starquakes.” Data arising from light waves that travel within the interior of the star lead to better understanding of the star, just as earthquakes are used to learn about the interior structure of Earth. As a result of this analysis, Kepler-10 is one of the most well characterized planet-hosting stars in the universe next to the Sun. This analysis also allowed scientists to pin down the properties of Kepler-10b. It is unequivocally a rocky planet, with a surface you could stand on, a mass 4.6 times that of Earth, a diameter 1.4 times that of Earth, and an average density of 8.8 grams per cubic centimeter -- similar to that of an iron dumbbell.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry

A Scorched World, Kepler-10b (Artist's Depiction)
Image credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc., Kepler Mission, NASA Ames Click image for full-resolution.
Kepler-10b is a scorched world, orbiting at a distance that’s more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our own Sun. The daytime temperature’s expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than lava flows here on Earth. Intense radiation from the star has kept the planet from holding onto an atmosphere. Flecks of silicates and iron may be boiled off a molten surface and swept away by the stellar radiation, much like a comet’s tail when its orbit brings it close to the Sun.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry

An Imagined Canyon on Planet Kepler-10b (Artist's Depiction)
Image credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc., Kepler Mission, NASA Ames Click image for full-resolution.
The daytime temperature’s expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than lava flows here on Earth, hot enough to melt iron! Many years ago, before Kepler launched, members of what became the Kepler team built a robotic telescope at Lick Observatory to learn to do transit photometry--detecting drops in brightness of stars when planets pass in front of them. We called it the “Vulcan Telescope,” named after the hypothetical planet that scientists in the 1800’s thought might exist between the Sun and Mercury. A planet that might explain the small deviations in Mercury’s orbit that were later explained with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Vulcan is the god of fire in Roman mythology, a name befitting of a world so close to the Sun. The artist’s rendering of Kepler-10b is reminiscent of that hypothetical planet Vulcan. The Kepler team came full circle in its quest. We know that we’ve only begun to imagine the possibilities.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry

Imagined View from Planet Kepler-10b (Artist's Depiction)
Image credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc., Kepler Mission, NASA Ames Click image for full-resolution.
Kepler-10b orbits one of the 150,000 stars that the Kepler spacecraft is monitoring, a star that is very similar to our own Sun in temperature, mass and size, but older with an age of over 8 billion years, compared to the 4-and-1/2 billion years of our own Sun. It’s one of the brighter stars that Kepler is monitoring and about 560 light years from our solar system, which means when the light from this star began its journey toward Earth, European navigators were crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in search of new horizons. Today, we’re still exploring and our crow’s nest is a space telescope called Kepler. One day, the oceans we cross will be the galaxy itself, but for now, we imagine the worlds we discover by putting all that we’ve learned from our observations and analyses into the fingers of artists.

Kepler-10b must be a scorched world, orbiting at a distance that’s more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our own Sun, with a daytime temperature expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Kepler team has determined that Kepler-10b is a rocky planet, with a surface you could stand on, a mass 4.6 times that of Earth, anda diameter 1.4 times that of Earth.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry

Natalie Batalha's Thoughts on Rocky Planet Kepler-10b

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Kepler-10b: The first confirmed rocky planet, narrated by by Natalie Batalha, Kepler Mission co-investigator.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry
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What Is Planet Kepler-10b Like?

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Kepler-10b as a scorched world, orbiting at a distance that’s more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our own Sun. The daytime temperature’s expected to be more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than lava flows here on Earth. Intense radiation from the star has kept the planet from holding onto an atmosphere, but the animation shows flecks of silicates and iron that have boiled off a molten surface and are swept away by the stellar radiation, much like a comet’s tail when its orbit brings it close to the sun.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry

Where Is Kepler-10b?

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Kepler-10b orbits one of the 150,000 stars that the spacecraft is monitoring between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra. We aim our mosaic of 42 detectors there, under the swan’s wing, just above the plane of the Milky Way galaxy.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry