Science

Incredibly rare Super-Earth raises hope of discovering alien life

It takes almost twice the time to circle its Sun, resulting in one year lasting around 617 days.

Astronomers are always on the hunt for another planet that's just like Earth - and they may have found the best possible candidate yet but it's a whopping 24,722.65 light-years away near the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy. This can be called "one in a million" discovery as the newly found planet is among the only handful of such planets discovered that's comparable in both size and orbit to that of Earth.

First, the good. Kepler-62f is believed to be a rocky planet like ours, although it is likely to be larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune. Lead researchers in the finding, Dr Antonio Herrera Martin and Associate Professor Michael Albrow from the University of Canterbury's School of Physical and Chemical Sciences in the College of Science, collaborated with an worldwide team for this investigation.

The study's lead author Dr. Antonio Herrera Martin said it took the team members five days to observe the host star, and they eventually witnessed a small distortion that lasted about five hours.

The planet was discovered using a technique called microlensing, where a star passes in front of another star, causing a temporary shedding of light that can reveal other undiscovered stars or planets. The super Earth's location, comparing to our solar system would be somewhere between that of Venus and Earth from the parent star. The consolidated gravity of the planet and its host star caused the light from an increasingly far off foundation star to be amplified with a certain goal in mind.

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In observing the exoplanet and its star, the research team also tapped into gravitational microlensing, which is based on the predictions of general relativity. "We used telescopes distributed around the world to measure the light-bending effect", Martin explained.

The astronomers mentioned that microlensing effect is rare because only about one in a million stars in the galaxy get affected by the effect at a particular time. "These experiments detect around 3,000 microlensing events each year, the majority of which are due to lensing by single stars", Michael Albrow, Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury and co-author of the paper, said.

In addition, this type of observation does not repeat, and the probabilities of catching a planet at the same time are extremely low, Martin said.

The findings have been described in The Astronomical Journal. This exoplanet hasn't been named yet, but the microlensing event that led to its discovery is now known as OGLE-2018-BLG-0677.

The telescopes have very large cameras used in measuring the light outputs from nearly 100,000,000 stars every 15 minutes.



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