Astronomers Discovered a New Planet Deep in the Galaxy That Could Be Another Earth
Though it's many light-years away—25,000 to be exact—astronomers just discovered a solar system sighting that still hits pretty close to home. What, exactly did researchers find? A planet that appears to have an Earth-like appearance deep in the Milky Way. According to The Daily Mail, the team of scientists from the University of Canterbury published their discovery in the Astronomical Journal after first spotting the host star. Once they dug deeper into the sighting, they realized that what they had found was a planet—almost one-tenth the size of the sun—orbiting the star. "After confirming this was indeed caused by another 'body' different from the star, and not an instrumental error, we proceeded to obtain the characteristics of the star-planet system," Dr. Herrera Martin, the lead researcher, said.
The team found this intergalactic phenomenon with a gravitational microlensing technique, which used telescopes from different areas around the world to take a closer look at light in the solar system. "These experiments detect around 3,000 microlensing events each year, the majority of which are due to lensing by single stars," Michael Albrow, Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury and co-author of the paper, said.
Dr. Martin noticed this particular planetary discovery after seeing a strange shape of light with the gravitational microlensing method. After studying the sight, the team came to the result that a star had a low-mass planet—seemingly between the size of Earth and Neptune—circling it during its orbit. This planet also sits between Earth and Venus in the solar system, but differs from those planets with its 617-day years since the star it orbits is significantly smaller than the sun.
While it can't be confirmed just yet if there is extraterrestrial life since the host star could radiate unbearable heat onto the planet, the researchers do think it could be possible since the "one-in-a-million discovery" is about one-third of about 4,000 planets spotted up to this point that has a rocky-like environment or a similar orbit like the Earth.