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A newfound extrasolar planet is the smallest yet discovered orbiting a star smaller than our sun, astronomers announced today.
The find may increase the chances of finding life-supporting "exoplanets," they added.
The planet, dubbed MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, is just three times more massive than Earth and orbits what is most likely a brown dwarf—a "failed" star that is so small its core may not be massive enough to maintain nuclear reactions for very long.
The planet is 3,000 light-years from Earth and has a close-in orbit similar to Venus's. But because the newfound body's parent is so much cooler than our sun, MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb is most likely to be even colder than Pluto.
Even so—and despite almost no solar heating—there's a slim chance that the planet could maintain a habitable temperature if the atmosphere is as thick with molecular hydrogen as researchers think it could be, according to study leader David Bennett.