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Illustration by Mariah Wilson; photo courtesy of Creative Commons

On the Bright Side: New Super-Earth discovered

By Enobong Ukpong, June 23 2020—

Astronomers at the University of Canterbury made an exciting discovery last month an extremely rare “Super-Earth” planet in the centre of the Milky Way, around 25,000 light years away from us. 

This Super-Earth has more mass than the Earth but has less than ice giants like Uranus and Neptune. It’s a particularly rare discovery, one that the University of Canterbury describes as “one in a million.”

Astronomers used a technique called gravitational microlensing to discover the planet. 

“The combined gravity of the planet and its host star caused the light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a particular way. We used telescopes distributed around the world to measure the light-bending effect,” said Antonio Herrera Martin, an astronomer at the University of Canterbury, in a release on May 9. 

Finding objects using the microlensing technique is rare, so this is a feat in and of itself, it’s even rarer to find one so similar to the Earth. 

“The new planet is among only a handful of extra-solar planets that have been detected with both sizes and orbits close to that of Earth,” said the University of Canterbury. It’s likely that this planet won’t be seen again for a long time. 

This doesn’t mean this planet is habitable. With a host star only 10 per cent the size of our sun, the planet would be much colder. Moreover, it’s unlikely to find any water, or life, for that matter. 

So, what does this mean for us? Every astronomical discovery is surrounded with a sense of wonder and curiosity. As technology marches on the idea of settling on a new astronomical body becomes less of a matter of “how”, but “when.” We’re still a way to go before Earth 2.0 but questions like “Are there other planets that support life?” and “Are we alone in the universe?” will continue to propel astronomy and science as a whole towards new heights. 

Their study was published in The Astronomical Journal on May 7, 2020.

On the Bright Side is a regular column by Gauntlet volunteers. Covering feel-good news, information and opinions from around the world, On the Bright Side is a little piece of positivity in a wild world. To submit, contact the column editor, volunteer coordinator Susie Ngo.


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