Researchers Uncover Unusual Super-Earth, Leaving Scientists Puzzled

An artist's depiction of a super-Earth, a rocky planet larger than our own.

An artist’s depiction of a super-Earth, a rocky planet larger than our own.Attribution: NASA

On a vast, rocky planet within a distant solar system, a year passes in just half a day.

Astronomers continuously uncover distinct planets in the depths of space, and a recent survey unveiled 15 new planets, including a unique super-Earth. These are rocky worlds around 30 to 70 percent larger than Earth, yet not as massive as planets like Neptune. The latest discovery of this super-Earth, named TOI-1798 c, stands out as it orbits remarkably close to its star — so close that one orbit takes about 12 hours. (This is known as a USP, or ultra-short period orbit.)

While some super-Earths reside in more moderate regions of their solar systems, where liquid water could potentially exist, TOI-1798 c is scorching.

“TOI-1798 c orbits its star so swiftly that a year on this planet is less than half a day on Earth,” mentioned Ian Crossfield, an astronomer at the University of Kansas and coauthor of the recent study. “Due to their proximity to their parent star, USPs are also extremely hot — receiving over 3,000 times the radiation Earth receives from the sun. Surviving in this extreme environment likely means this planet has shed any original atmosphere it possessed.”

The recent discovery of this new exoplanet (a planet beyond our solar system) was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

While it’s improbable for life to exist in such a fiercely hot, irradiated place, these planets contribute to our understanding of the variety of rocky worlds out there and how other solar systems may differ from ours. For instance, as current scientific knowledge suggests, super-Earths are prevalent in other solar systems — unlike ours. Most solar systems have two or more stars. We have just one.

“This indicates that our solar system may be less typical than previously assumed,” Crossfield remarked.

An artist's depiction of two exoplanets orbiting the star TOI-1798. The inner planet is the super-Earth.

To locate the super-Earth TOI-1798 c, situated many light-years away, researchers utilized two observatories. The NASA device TESS — abbreviated for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite — possesses sensitive cameras that search for fluctuations in a star’s brightness as a planet passes in front. This method offers evidence of a planet’s presence and insights into its orbit.

Furthermore, the exoplanet team utilized the Earth-based W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii to determine the planet’s mass. By observing the slight wobble of the star as the planet orbited, they could ascertain the super-Earth’s mass. This data enabled them to calculate its density and other probable characteristics.

As of May 24, 2024, astronomers have confirmed 5,632 planets within our Milky Way galaxy. However, our galactic abode, with hundreds of billions of stars, may harbor trillions of exoplanets.

Valentina Rogers

Valentina is a tech-savvy wordsmith, blending her expertise in digital trends with a talent for crafting compelling stories that resonate with readers of all backgrounds.

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