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What the Heck is a Super Earth?

What the Heck is a Super Earth?

By Swapna Krishna

Super Earth. Just the name sounds pretty awesome. But Super Earths are actually a thing and have been in the news lately. So what are they and why are they important? We’re here to give you the 411 on all things Super Earth related so you can appear knowledgeable and informed the next time Super Earths are on the docket at trivia night.

We all know that the hunt for planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, is ON. NASA even has a site called PlanetQuest, which documents all the planets we’ve found so far, whether it’s by NASA or international scientists. (A sidenote: If you’re interested in exoplanets and haven’t looked at PlanetQuest yet, spend 5 minutes poking around. You’ll be surprised at how fast that 5 minutes turns into 50!)

Of course, the gold mine is finding another Earth–a “goldilocks” planet that’s just the right distance from the sun so that it can develop a habitable atmosphere and, now or eventually, support life. According to NASA, that means it’s in the zone where it’s far enough from the sun for liquid water to form on the surface (not freeze—too far!–or boil–CLEARLY too close.) We’re not only looking for aliens, but we also need a backup plan in case our whole “consuming all the natural resources and trashing Earth” plan goes south. So finding habitable planets is important.

It was a pretty big deal back when we found the first “Earth-like” planet. But what’s been surprising is the number of “Super Earths” that have been found in the habitable area around a star. Super Earths are rocky, like Earth, rather than a gas giant like Jupiter, but they are much bigger than our little planet. Just for reference, the smallest Super Earth (and habitable-zone planet) found thus far is 40% larger than Earth.

Now the latest news is that 16 MORE Super Earths have been discovered by the European Southern Observatory, and guess what? A Super Earth that’s just 36 light years away has been discovered—and it’s only 3.6 times the size of Earth. While the article is encouraging us not to get TOO excited, we can’t help it. The question now is, how do we get there?

Would you live on a Super Earth colony?

Tags: science, outer space, astronomy, space, nasa, astro physics, earth, super earths

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About the Author
Swapna Krishna

Swapna is a Washington, DC-based freelance editor who loves all things space and sci fi. You can find her book reviews at S. Krishna’s Books (http://www.skrishnasbooks.com) and on Twitter at @skrishna.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.

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