Astronomers Discover a Super-Earth with an Earth-Like Orbit

Astronomers from the University of Canterbury (UC) have made a significant discovery – a new exoplanet, remarkably similar to Earth, situated near the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy. This newly discovered ‘super-Earth’ has drawn considerable attention as it is among the very few known exoplanets sharing attributes with our home planet, in terms of size and orbit.

This breakthrough was made possible by the collaborative work of Dr. Antonio Herrera Martin and Associate Professor Michael Albrow from UC’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, in conjunction with global researchers. According to the team, this super-Earth is a rare find in the universe. It orbits a dim dwarf, possibly a brown dwarf or a failed star, with its orbit taking approximately 617 Earth days, which would place it halfway between Earth and Venus if located in our solar system.

Researchers used our solar system for comparative purposes. The host star of this super-Earth has around 10% of the Sun’s mass, and the planet itself is estimated to have a mass between that of Earth and Neptune. This makes it one of the very few known exoplanets bearing resemblance to Earth in size and orbit.

Interestingly, the super-Earth wasn’t discovered by direct observation, nor by the transit method, which involves studying the interaction between a planet and its star. Instead, the scientists employed gravitational microlensing, a technique that exploits the distortion and magnification of light by the host star, which acts as a lens.

Dr. Herrera Martin elaborated, “The joint gravitational force of the planet and its host star caused the light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a specific way. We used globally distributed telescopes to measure this light-bending effect.”

The occurrence of microlensing is extremely infrequent, affecting roughly one in a million stars in the Milky Way at any time, making this discovery even more notable. Moreover, the probability of simultaneously observing a planet through this phenomenon is incredibly slim, as per the UC astronomers.

The formal designation for the microlensing event that resulted in this exoplanet’s discovery is OGLE-2018-BLG-0677. The discovery of such a ‘super-Earth’ ignites curiosity about life beyond our planet and opens up new dimensions for astronomical research. It underscores the importance of international collaboration in scientific explorations and the continuous quest for knowledge about the cosmos.

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