A team of scientists have discovered a new super-Earth planet that has some pretty interesting similarities to us. Scientists gathered data from the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) and the Korea Microlensing Telescope Network (KMTNet) that uses three telescopes in Chile, South Africa, and Australia.
While the planet hasn’t officially been named as of yet, the microlensing event that the scientists participated in that ultimately led to its discovery has been named OGLE-2018-BLG-0677.
It took the scientists five days of observation to notice a small distortion that only lasted about five hours and that’s how they figured out that it was a planet. Lead author of the study, Antonio Herrera-Martin, explained this further by stating, “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.”
The newly discovered planet is located 25,000 light-years away from us and is approximately four times the mass of Earth. The host star is a dim dwarf star, a brown dwarf, or a “failed star” and it takes the planet about 617 Earth days in order to complete a full orbit. For comparison, the distance in which it orbits its star is in between where Earth and Venus orbit our sun. Its star, however, is only about one-tenth of the mass of our sun and since the planet is so big, it is considered to be a super-Earth or a sub-Neptune. That type of planet in that specific orbit is in fact very rare.
They observed how the planet and its host star warped and magnified light (similar to a lens). This is called gravitational microlensing which is when the space around large objects becomes warped. And when a telescope, a large object, and a target are lined up in a certain way, the light that’s coming from the target becomes warped because of the large object. This is actually an extremely rare event. In fact, according to a statement released by the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, this is a “one in a million” occurrence.
“The combined gravity of the planet and its host star caused the light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a particular way,” explained Herrera-Martin.
Since it is located so far away from us, it remains unclear whether or not the planet can host any type of life as the temperature of its star is unknown. For example, if the star emits high levels of radiation, the planet more than likely couldn’t sustain any life. More research needs to be done in order to find out.