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Microbes at the Gas Pump
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Tree Frogs
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Little Beetle, Big Horns
Wired for Math
Swedish Rhapsody
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When frog gender flips
Diamond Glow
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The Book of Life
A Light Delay
Music of the Future
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A Living Fossil
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Pollution Detective
Saving Wetlands
Sounds and Silence
Finding the Past
Early Maya Writing
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A Plankhouse Past
Basking Sharks
Food and Nutrition
Symbols from the Stone Age
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Whoever vs. Whomever
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Human Body
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From Stem Cell to Any Cell
Walking to Exercise the Brain
Hermit Crabs
Sea Anemones
Raise a Lifelong Reader by Reading Aloud
How children learn
Children and Media
Road Bumps
IceCube Science
Strange Universe: The Stuff of Darkness
Plants Travel Wind Highways
Getting the dirt on carbon
Surprise Visitor
Snapping Turtles
Space and Astronomy
A Dusty Birthplace
Mercury's magnetic twisters
Evidence of a Wet Mars
Technology and Engineering
Toy Challenge
Space Umbrellas to Shield Earth
Riding Sunlight
The Parts of Speech
Adjectives and Adverbs
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Where rivers run uphill
Revving Up Green Machines
Reach for the Sky
Recipe for a Hurricane
Arctic Melt
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Cousin Earth

As their search continues, astronomers are finding more and more planets orbiting nearby stars. This time, they've detected a solid planet that's just 15 light-years from Earth. Many details about the planet remain unknown because the astronomers didn't see it directly. Instead, they were able to detect how the planet's gravity makes its star wobble a little bit. Out of 156 planets discovered so far in other solar systems, the new extrasolar planet is the smallest one yet found. It's about 7.5 times heavier than Earth. Along with two, much bigger planets, the new world orbits a star called Gliese 876. The planet takes just 1.9 days to complete an orbit around Gliese 876. So, its year is much, much shorter than ours. It's so close to its star that its surface is hot enough to roast a chicken. Most extrasolar planets that have been found so far are big balls of gas, like Jupiter and Saturn. Because the planet's mass is low, it probably couldn't hold onto much gas. So, scientists suspect that it's rocky. "This could be the first [known] rocky planet around any normal star other than the sun," says team member Jack Lissauer of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Scientists are still trying to figure out how rocky planets might form so close to their stars. Whatever the answer, the new discovery gives researchers confidence that they will one day find even closer cousins to Earth somewhere in the universe. And, on a planet resembling Earth, they might also discover traces of life as we know it.—E. Sohn

Cousin Earth
Cousin Earth

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