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Gliese 581 C marked a milestone in the search for worlds beyond our solar system. It is the smallest exoplanet ever detected, and the first to lie within the habitable zone of its parent star, thus raising the possibility that its surface could sustain liquid water, or even life. It is 50 percent bigger and 5 times more massive than Earth.
Upsilon Andromeda b is tidally locked to its sun like the Moon is to Earth, so one side of the planet is always facing its star. This setup creates one of the largest temperature differences astronomers have ever seen on an exoplanet. One side of the planet is always hot as lava, while the other is chilled possibly below freezing.
There are known exoplanets that have one, two and even three suns. But one bizarre class of planet-sized objects has no suns at all, and instead floats untethered through space. Called â€œplanemos,â€ the objects are similar to, but smaller than, brown dwarfs, failed stars too small to achieve stellar ignition.
The oldest known planet is a primeval world 12.7 billion years old that formed more than 8 billion years before Earth and only 2 billion years after the Big Bang. The discovery suggested planets are very common in the universe and raised the prospect that life began far sooner than most scientists ever imagined.