A Super-Earth Planet Spotted in Earth-like Orbit

Recently, scientists spotted an intriguing new alien planet with somewhat similar features like our Earth planet. The planet has an eye-catching look with a particular roundabout way. The scientists believe its size is four times the mass of Earth.

Microlensing observed on the New Planet

Although there are some similarities between Earth and the new planet, the scientists have also noted some stark differences between the two as well. The star of the planet is a dim dwarf star. It’s like a brown dwarf or failed star. The orbit of the new planet falls somewhere between that of Earth and Venus around the sun. So, a year lasts about 617 Earth days on the new planet.

super earth discovery near galaxy centre
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Image: © NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

The team of scientists who discovered this planet couldn’t observe it directly. They couldn’t even spot the interaction of the planet with its star. Instead, the researchers identified the planet as it warped its star and magnified light like a lens. This phenomenon is called gravitational microlensing.

Gravitational microlensing happens when massive objects warp the space around them. When a telescope, a massive object, and a target line up in just the right way, the massive object warps the light emitted by the target and magnifies it. This phenomenon doesn’t happen usually – just one in a million stars are being magnified at any given time.

The scientists’ team from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, who discovered this planet, combined microlensing observations gathered by two facilities:

  • The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment based in Poland
  • The Microlensing Telescope Network based in Korea

The Korean microlensing telescope lensing network consisted of a trio of instruments in three different countries i.e., Chile, South Africa, and Australia.

The scientists use the precise details of microlensing observations to estimate which object acted as the lens due to which the phenomenon took place. Usually, a single star is responsible for this event to happen. By analyzing the brightness of the target object, the scientists determine when it was micro-lensed versus when it wasn’t.

By performing these estimations, the scientists realized that the lens was actually a system and not a lone star. The whole process required poring through five days of data to isolate five hours of relevant observation through which they confirmed that just an instrument fluke couldn’t be blamed for the unusual finding. Their research got published in The Astronomical Journal on May 7, 2020.

Scientist’s Conclusion

The final research of the scientists concluded the basic description of a distant star system. According to which, the star is a one-tenth the mass of our sun and the planet is four times the mass of Earth. Thus, they called it a super-Earth or a sub-Neptune planet that circles its star between the orbital distances of Earth and Venus. It’s an interesting combination because the discovery of such planets in such orbits is quite rare.

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