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University of Birmingham scientists discover planet the size of the moon

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Astronomers from the University of Birmingham have discovered planet Kepler-37b in a survey of the Milky Way

Brummie boffins are over the moon after helping discover a new planet. Scientists from University of Birmingham are among a team of international experts who have identified deep space’s newest recruit. The planet is the smallest yet to be discovered beyond the Solar System and is around the same size as the Moon.

It was detected by a space telescope during a survey of more than 150,000 stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The hot, barren planet, named Kepler-37b, orbits a Sun-like star called Kepler-37 and is thought to be a smaller version of Mercury. It is said to be too inhospitable for life, with no atmosphere or water, and has a surface blasted by heat and radiation.

The new planet was detected by the Kepler space telescope, which is designed to measure the tiny dimming of starlight that occurs when a planet moves across a star’s surface. University of Birmingham experts who sized up the planet have hailed the find because of the its small size.

Professor Bill Chaplin, from the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “This research shows for the first time that other stellar systems host planets much smaller than anything in our solar system.

“This helps us to put our own solar system into a wider context.”

The discovery is the university’s latest foray into the skies above. Earlier this month, it announced it was teaming up with NASA for a climate change research project. A robotic aircraft will be sent 65,000 feet up into the earth’s atmosphere to measure changes in the ozone layer. It is the first collaboration of its kind between UK and US scientists.

The Coordinated Airborne Studies in the Tropics (CAST) programme will use an aircraft called the NASA Global Hawk, which was originally developed for military missions.

Rob MacKenzie, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Birmingham, said: “The CAST project will provide a unique insight into how water enters the ozone layer and so will help us predict how that protective layer will behave in a warmer and wetter future.”

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