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A Mars-sized exoplanet, like Mercury on the within

Artist’s idea of Mars-sized exoplanet GJ 376 b orbiting its star. It’s one of many smallest and lightest exoplanets discovered thus far, with a composition like that of Mercury. Image by way of NASA/ ESA/ G. Bacon (STScI)/ MIT.

New Mars-sized exoplanet

In our solar system, planets orbit the sun in months or years. The closest and quickest planet, Mercury, takes 88 days to go across the sun as soon as. But astronomers have discovered exoplanets in distant solar methods that orbit their stars in solely hours. Earlier this month (December 2, 2021), researchers announced the invention of a brand new planet that orbits its star in solely 7.7 hours and can be one of many smallest exoplanets discovered thus far. The planet is labeled GJ 367 b. Intriguingly, it’s concerning the dimension of our solar system’s fourth planet Mars, however has a composition just like that of our sun’s innermost planet, Mercury.

NASA’s TESS planet-hunter found the brand new exoplanet. It’s pretty shut by, at solely 31 light-years from Earth. The researchers published their peer-reviewed findings about it within the journal Science on December 2. The paper can be available as a free preprint on arXiv.

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Probably not liveable

Since it’s so near its star, GJ 367 b is unlikely to be habitable. That is, it doubtless doesn’t have water on its floor. It most likely can’t help life as we all know it. The researchers estimate that GJ 367 b receives a whopping 500 instances extra radiation from its star than Earth does from our sun. In that state of affairs, it’s uncertain that the planet even has any ambiance left (though that’s not identified for positive but).

Temperatures on the dayside of the planet (since it’s doubtless tidally locked to its star) are estimated to succeed in round a scorching 1,500 levels Celsius (2,700 levels Fahrenheit).

With all that radiation, scorching temperatures and possible lack of ambiance, this little world doesn’t sound very hospitable!

Small rocky planet lit up in red, very close to its red star.
Another artist’s idea of GJ 367 b. Image by way of Patricia Klein/ Phys.org.

Like Mercury on the within

There are numerous options that make this world of explicit curiosity to scientists. First, it’s what is called an ultra-short-period planet. The phrase “period” refers back to the size of its orbit round its red dwarf star … on this case, an astonishing 7.7 hours. The planet resembles Mars, with a radius 72% that of Earth and a mass 55% that of Earth.

But the obvious composition of the planet is a shock. On the within, GJ 376 b isn’t like Mars or Earth. Instead, it extra carefully resembles Mercury.

Based on its radius and mass, the researchers assume the planet has a strong iron-rich core, with some nickel. Further calculations of the planet’s inside point out that the core most likely accounts for about 86% of the planet’s inside construction. So it’s bigger than Earth’s core, percentage-wise, and, in that regard, it’s extra like Mercury. Roland Vanderspek, principal analysis scientist at MIT, confirmed:

We’re discovering a Mars-sized planet that has the composition of Mercury. It’s among the many smallest planets detected thus far, and it’s spinning round an M dwarf on a really tight orbit.

How was GJ 367 b found?

Astronomers discovered the planet in knowledge taken by TESS in 2019. The star, GJ 367, was considered one of many in a patch of sky within the Southern Hemisphere monitored by TESS.

TESS seems to be for exoplanets by measuring transits of the planets in entrance of their stars. This is named the transit method. As the planets cross in entrance of their stars, as seen from Earth, the starlight dims very barely. That dimming may be studied to find out if a planet is accountable. GJ 367 b was confirmed as being an actual planet and never only a false constructive, as typically occurs.

Later, the researchers additionally noticed the planet’s star utilizing High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS). HARPS is an instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s telescope in Chile.

Smiling man with eyeglasses and space nebula mural behind him.
Roland Vanderspek, principal researcher at MIT, is among the authors of the brand new examine of GJ 367 b. Image by way of MIT Kavli Institute.

Other liveable planets?

While GJ 367 b could also be removed from a really perfect abode for all times, there might, nonetheless, nonetheless be different planets within the system which are liveable. Since a rocky planet like GJ 367 b exists, the researchers assume it’s doable for there to be different planets within the system as nicely. According to George Ricker, a senior analysis scientist at MIT:

For this class of star, the liveable zone could be someplace close to a month-long orbit. Since this star is so shut by, and so brilliant, now we have a superb probability of seeing different planets on this system. It’s like there’s an indication saying, ‘Look here for extra planets!’

If there are different planets on this system, they might present clues as to why GJ 367 b ended up orbiting the star so carefully. As TESS crew member Natalia Guerrero stated:

Understanding how these planets get so near their host stars is a little bit of a detective story. Why is that this planet lacking its outer ambiance? How did it transfer shut in? Was this course of peaceable or violent? Hopefully this technique will give us a little bit extra perception.

Cylindrical spacecraft with solar panel wings orbiting near Earth and moon.
Artist’s idea of NASA’s TESS space telescope, in whose knowledge GJ 367 b was found. Image by way of NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center.

Bottom line: Astronomers have found a close-by blazing sizzling Mars-sized planet that’s extra just like Mercury in composition and orbits its star in solely eight hours. It is among the smallest and lightest exoplanets ever discovered thus far.

Source: GJ 367b: A dense, ultrashort-period sub-Earth planet transiting a nearby red dwarf star

Source (preprint): GJ 367b: A dense ultra-short period sub-Earth planet transiting a nearby red dwarf star


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