If there’s one thing the Kepler planet-hunting mission taught us, it’s that planets are common in our galaxy. That telescope alone has discovered more than 2,300 confirmed planets around other stars, with nearly twice as many awaiting confirmation. Included in that count are 30 worlds less than twice the size of Earth, located in the habitable zones of their respective stars.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what these small, rocky planets look like—even the largest telescopes currently in development won’t be powerful enough to resolve surface features. But as the instruments get more powerful still, one research team is wondering whether we might be able to detect mountains on an Earth-sized planet. Under the right circumstances, they argue, these large surface features should show up.
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