New planet ’rocks’ astronomers’ mindsWritten by Lauren Farnsworth | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On June 13, astronomers discovered a new planet in the Aquarius constellation.
This planet, about 15 light years from Earth, has a mass seven times greater then the Earth and is presumed to consist of rock.
According to Karen Bjorkman, professor of astronomy and associate department chair of the University of Toledo Physics and astronomy department, the planet circles an m-dwarf star called Gliese 876. This star is cooler than the sun and has two giant gas planets around it. The planet orbits Gliese 876 every 1.94 days.
According to Bjorkman the planet orbits extremely close to the star and has a temperature between 400 and 730 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of its size and makeup, it’s called the ”most Earthlike” planet apart from those in our solar system.
”The discovery was made using a telescope on the top of the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii with the Keck Telescope, which is one of the largest telescopes in the world. Because the planet is so faint, you need a very large telescope,” Bjorkman said.
The planet was discovered by its gravitational pull on Gliese 876. According to Bjorkman, a spectrograph spreads the light from the star out into wavelengths, measures the lines, and the tiny changes in the position of those lines, or ”wobbles.”
This discovery provides us with ”an example of a solar system of planets around another star which has both giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn, and a planet that’s more like the mass of the Earth. It’s the same kind of orientation that we have in our solar system,” Bjorkman said.
The technology used to discover the planet has been used to discover more than 130 other planets, according to Bjorkman. She said she suspects that detections of smaller planets will become more frequent due to the advancement in spectrographs.
”It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of [the discovery],” she said. ”I think it’s a really interesting result; it’s one of the things that astronomers who do these planet searches, are really trying to do, is push down to where they are beginning to find planets that are potentially more like the size of the earth, and this is a good step in that direction.”
At presstime, no name had been given to the planet.