Our outer space neighbourhood appears to be pretty dense in the matter of Earth-sized planets: Astronomers have recently discovered a new exoplanet that is just a tad bigger than our planet orbiting a red dwarf star at about 66.5 light-years away. This is big news because astronomers and scientists believe that the newly found exoplanet is a perfect subject to help them expand their knowledge regarding the small, rocky planet population of our galaxy.
A bit of history
Our ability of detection and knowledge of exoplanets has basically sky-rocketed ever since the first discovery of such a celestial body was published back in 1992. The existence of more than 4,100 exoplanets has been confirmed as of right now, and in the short timespan of under three decades since the first discovery of an exoplanet we have formed a much deeper understanding of planetary systems and their life cycle.
Unfortunately, exoplanets are small, dim or dark and therefore extremely difficult to spot from a distance. The majority of the confirmed exoplanets are chonkers, ice and gas giants about the size of Neptune (and even bigger sometimes).
The Kepler exoplanet-hunting missions and now TESS have been a key factor to increasing the number of detections of smaller exoplanets, especially those around the mass of Earth or Venus which are likely to be rocky rather than gaseous (which, by the way, is one of the prerequisites for life as we are used to it).
Avi Shporer is the leader of an international team that is analyzing exoplanets. According to him, such rocky planets are difficult to measure and characterise, which is exactly why we don’t frequently spot them around stars which are bright enough to allow for advanced follow-up research.
The harsh requirements for discovering an exoplanet makes the entire process even cooler. The paper written by Shporer’s team was uploaded to arXiv and hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, but their result is intriguing to say at least.
An extract from the paper reads:
“Here we present the discovery of GJ 1252 b, a small planet orbiting a dwarf. The planet was initially discovered as a transiting planet candidate using TESS data.”
“Based on the TESS data and additional follow-up data we are able to reject all false positive scenarios, showing it is a real planet.”
GJ 1252 b is about one and a fifth the size of our planet and about twice heavier (therefore denser than Earth) and it’s orbiting a red dwarf named GJ 1252, which is only about 40% the size and mass of our sun.
The newly found exoplanet revolves around its star once every 12.4 hours, which is way too close for habitability and most likely tidally locked, meaning that one side is always facing the star but the tight orbit makes it attractive for a different reason.
The system is located at “only” 66.5 light years away, meaning that the star is bright enough for scientists to analyze it properly. Additionally, the red dwarf is suspiciously calm for such a star, and the fact that the planet completes an orbit around it means that there are many opportunities to analyze it while it’s moving in front of its host.
“The host star proximity and brightness and the short orbital period make this star-planet system an attractive target for detailed characterisation.” -extract from the paper published by the scientists.