Astronomers Discover a Solar System Which Is Full of Rocky Planets the Same Size as Earth

Saturday, 09 June 2018 - 4:24PM
Space
Astronomy
Saturday, 09 June 2018 - 4:24PM
Astronomers Discover a Solar System Which Is Full of Rocky Planets the Same Size as Earth
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NASA/Lynette Cook
While we're not expecting to travel to Earth-like planets anytime soon, scientists are still preoccupied with finding them, if only to see that we're potentially not alone in the universe.

So it's great that a team of researchers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of Oviedo in Spain have found some points of interest in our search for second Earths: the team just released a new study examining two solar systems they've uncovered, one of which contains three planets which are just about the same size as our own pale blue dot.

That solar system, which orbits the star K2-239, is located about 160 lightyears away and can be found inside the constellation Sextans (the Sextant, naturally). At least three rocky planets have been found, two of them being 1.1 times the radius of Earth, and the third planet is almost the exact size.



These planets aren't exactly the same as Earth beyond their size—the years go by very quickly on these planets, as the two slightly larger exoplanets have respective orbit times of 5.2 and 10.1 days, while the exactly Earth-sized planet takes 7.8 days to circle its star. K2-239 is a red dwarf star, and its entire solar system is a compact one.

It's difficult to tell whether the planets have atmospheres to match our own, as they were only found by the usual exoplanet-detecting method of searching for "transit events", which are instances of a star's light dimming in a way that suggests a planet is passing in front of it. From there, we can usually uncover more details about elements comprising it, but it's not simple.

However, we can determine that since these planets are so close to their stars, it's much hotter on their surfaces. Being around cooler red dwarf stars, the temperatures aren't enough to roast the surface, but they are likely tens of degrees hotter than what we see on Earth.

And the other planetary star system uncovered by the researchers is also fascinating, as the star K2-240 contains two super-Earths, which are both twice Earth's size. These planets, too, are very close to their red dwarf star, and temperatures are high.

The scientists are hoping to further analyze these potential (if toastier) second Earths by examining them through the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2020. If it doesn't get delayed again, of course.
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