Someone call John Lithgow and pull French Stewart out of storage. A team of astronomers using the Kepler telescope have discovered the smallest exoplanets -- and tiniest solar system -- so far. And their existence may show that our solar system isn't all that unique.
The planets orbit a single star, KOI-961, and range between .57 and .78 the size of the Earth with the smallest about the same size as Mars. Their discovery is important because most exoplanets, those orbiting other stars, have been gas giants like Saturn or Jupiter. "Astronomers are just beginning to confirm thousands of planet candidates uncovered by Kepler so far," Doug Hudgins, a scientist with the Kepler program said in a press release. "Finding one as small as Mars is amazing, and hints that there may be a bounty of rocky planets all around us."
Don't expect to visit these planets, however, and not because of their remote distance. While they aren't like Tatooine, all three rocky exoplanets orbit far too close to their star be habitable. According to John Johnson, NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute's primary researcher, "This is the tiniest solar system found so far. It's actually more similar to Jupiter and its moons in scale than any other planetary system." [NASA]
Image: AP - ESO / L. Calcada