Just 21 light years away from Earth, a new planetary system comprising three super-Earths has been unveiled.
The exciting finding is due to an international team of astronomers coming from NCCR PlanetS and the University of Geneva.
The planetary system resembles our own to a high degree, the astronomers said. It is surprising that it has been hiding until now, considering that it is only 21 light years away one arm of the constellation Cassiopeia.
The system comprises a star, much like our Sun and visible to the naked eye due to its intensity. In the outer region of the planetary system, the astronomers identified a giant planet, similar to Saturn. But the most exciting part of the discovery are the three super-Earths.
Of these, the one that caught the attention of the research team is the one that transits, passing in front of the bright star. This super-Earth, titled HD 219134b was found to have a density very similar to that of our own planet.
Based on Spitzer observations, combined with an analysis of radial velocities, the astronomers were able to identify the density of the super-Earth. Also, they found that the planet is 1.6 times larger than our home planet, and 4.5 times the mass of Earth.
As it completes a transit in a timeframe of three days, the planet is very close to the scorching star. That is why the temperature on the planet is estimated at 700 degrees Kelvin or 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Certainly, this makes the closest transiting planet ever spotted a not so welcoming life habitat. Volcanic activity could be marking the planet’s assumed rocky surface, perhaps partly molten.
Aside from this super-Earth, two more are orbiting their star in 6.8 days, respectively 46.8 days.
The first of these two was calculated to weight 2.7 times our own Earth , while the second comprises 8.7 Earth masses.
The astronomers hope to catch one more feast. The moment when the three super-Earths are in coplanar configuration. This would indicate that the entire planet family transits the star.
“In particular, the future CHEOPS satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA), developed under Swiss leadership with a strong involvement of UNIGE and of the University of Bern, will provide the perfect tool for such observations,”
Professor Stéphane Udry from the University of Geneva commented with regards to future observational prospects.
The finding was enabled by the HARPS-N spectrograph which is located with the Italian Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory.
More details can be studied in the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal.
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