A ROCKY “Super-Earth” planet has been spotted orbiting one of the Milky Way galaxy’s oldest stars.
Astronomers in Hawaii say the distant world is one and a half times the size of Earth, but takes just half the time to orbit its star.
Artist’s impression of TOI-561, a star system 280 light-years from EarthCredit: W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko
That’s due to the close proximity between the two, which also makes the planet extremely hot at its surface.
In a study published this week, scientists estimate that the newly found planet, which orbits the star TOI-561, is an astonishing 10billion years old.
That’s more than twice as old as the Solar System, and nearly as ancient as the Universe itself.
“The rocky planet orbiting TOI-561 is one of the oldest rocky planets yet discovered,” said study lead author Dr Lauren Weiss.
The planet is one of the oldest ever discovered in the Milky WayCredit: Nasa
“Its existence shows that the universe has been forming rocky planets almost since its inception 14 billion years ago.”
The TOI-561 star system lies roughly 280 light-years from Earth and contains two other known planets.
Scientists at the University of Hawaii stumbled upon the third using telescopes at the Aloha State’s W. M. Keck Observatory.
Their observations show the planet takes just 12 hours to complete a lap of its star, and has an average surface temperature of over 1,700C (3,140F).
That makes it far too hot to host any form of life as we know it, according to a statement from the University of California, Riverside.
The planet is a “super-Earth” – defined as any rocky world with a mass that is between those of Earth and Neptune.
What is an exoplanet?
Here’s what you need to know…
- An exoplanet is a planet that is located outside of our Solar System and one that is orbiting its own star, as Earth orbits the Sun
- They are very hard to see with telescopes because they are often hidden by the brightness of their star
- Nasa sent the Kepler space telescope into orbit with the purpose of finding Earth-sized exoplanets that might support life
- More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered so far and more missions to find even more exoplanets are planned
- A good way to spot an exoplanet is to look for “wobbly” stars because a disruption to starlight can indicate that a planet is orbiting it and blocking its light intermittently
- Expoplanets are very common in the universe and the more we find that look like Earth, the closer we get to knowing whether Earth is the only life-bearing planet
Named for Nasa’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS Object of Interest (TOI) 561 belongs to a rare population of stars called the galactic thick disk.
Stars in this region are chemically distinct, with fewer heavy elements such as iron or magnesium that are associated with planet building.
As the researchers find more exoplanets, they continue to learn more about their dimensions and whether it could be habitable.
“Information about a planet’s interior gives us a sense of whether the surface of the planet is habitable by life as we know it,” said study co-author Stephen Kane, of the University of California Riverside.
“Though this particular planet is unlikely to be inhabited today, it may be a harbinger of a many rocky worlds yet to be discovered around our galaxy’s oldest stars.”
The research was published Monday in The Astronomical Journal.
In other space news, a huge asteroid that’s following Mars’s orbit could be our Moon’s ‘long-lost twin’.
There was once a NINTH planet in our Solar System – but it got flung out into deep space.
And, a moon of Saturn may have the ideal conditions to support alien life, evidence suggests.
What do you make of the ancient planet? Let us know in the comments!
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