Skip to comments.'Super Earth' Discovered at Nearby Star
Posted on 08/25/2004 3:27:13 PM PDT by swilhelm73
In a discovery that has left one expert stunned, European astronomers have found one of the smallest planets known outside our solar system, a world about 14 times the mass of our own around a star much like the Sun.
It could be a rocky planet with a thin atmosphere, a sort of "super Earth," the researchers said today.
But this is no typical Earth. It completes its tight orbit in less than 10 days, compared to the 365 required for our year. Its daytime face would be scorched.
The planet's surface conditions aren't known, said Portuguese researcher Nuno Santos, who led the discovery. "However, we can expect it to be quite hot, given the proximity to the star."
Hot as in around 1,160 degrees Fahrenheit (900 Kelvin), Santos told SPACE.com.
Still, the discovery is a significant advance in technology: No planet so small has ever been detected around a normal star. And the finding reveals a solar system more similar to our own than anything found so far.
Terrestrial in nature
The star is like our Sun and just 50 light-years away. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers). Most of the known extrasolar planets are hundreds or thousands of light-years distant.
The star, mu Arae, is visible under dark skies from the Southern Hemisphere. It harbors two other planets. One is Jupiter-sized and takes 650 days to make its annual trip around the star. The other planet, whose existence was confirmed with the help of the new observations, is farther out.
The three-planet setup, with one being rocky, is unique.
"It's much closer to our solar system than anything we've found so far," said Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.
"This really is an exciting discovery," said Boss, who was not involved in the work. "I'm still somewhat stunned they have such good data."
The discovery was made with a European Southern Observatory telescope at La Silla, Chile, working at the verge of what's possible to detect. Most of the more than 120 planets found beyond our solar system are gaseous worlds as big or larger than Jupiter, mostly in tight orbits that would not permit a rocky planet to survive.
A handful of planets smaller than Saturn have been found, but none anywhere near as small as the one announced today. And a trio of roughly Earth-sized planets was found in 2002 to orbit a dense stellar corpse known as a neutron star. They are oddballs, however, circling rapidly around a dark star that would not support life. Some planet hunters don't consider these three to be as important as planets around normal stars.
At 14 times the mass of Earth, the newfound planet -- circling a star similar in size and brightness to our Sun -- is about as heavy as Uranus, a world of gas and ice and the smallest giant planet in our solar system. Theorists say 14 Earth-masses is roughly the upper limit for a planet to possibly remain rocky, however. And because this planet is so close to its host star, it likely had a much different formation history than Uranus.
In our solar system, the four innermost planets are all rocky.
Rock and air
The leading theory of planet formation has the gas giants forming from a rocky core, a process in which the core develops over time, then reaches a tipping point when gravity can rapidly collect a huge envelope of gas. This theory suggests the newfound planet never reached that critical mass, said Santos, of the Centro de Astronomia e Astrofisica da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal.
"Otherwise the planet would have become much more massive," Santos said via e-mail.
"This object is therefore likely to be a planet with a rocky core surrounded by a small gaseous envelope and would therefore qualify as a super-Earth," the European team said in a statement.
In a telephone interview, Boss of the Carnegie Institution said the European's analysis of the data represents a "reasonable argument." He said the planet had to form inside the orbit of the larger planet in the system, which orbits the star about twice as far as Earth is from the Sun. Boss also points out that Earth is about 18 times as massive as Mercury, so even in our solar system there is a range of possibilities for rocky planets.
Finally, Boss said, the star mu Arae has a higher metal content than the Sun, and theory says a planet forming close to such a star can be expected to gather more mass. It's all about how much building material is available, he said.
There are no conventional pictures of the object, as it was detected by noting its gravitational effect on the star. The search project leading to the discovery is led by Michel Mayor of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland.
While researchers do not know the full range of conditions under which life can survive, the newly discovered world, with its hot surface, is not the sort of place biologists would expect to find life as we know it.
Santos said life on the large world is not likely. But, he added, "one never knows."
They're surprised they found something? Or they're surprised it exists? ;-)
It's a super-Mercury, instead of a super Earth.
Surprised it exists.
A terrestrial planet with 14 times the mass of the Earth that orbits in ten days is rather unexpected...
Fantastic! In the next twenty years, they will be discovering *thousands* of planets orbiting thousands of stars.
Well the odds are almost nil we'd ever find an Earth sized planet with a good distance from it's sun.
Intersting find. I imagine the "cool" side might have a chance to develop life if there's no rotation.
"It completes its tight orbit in less than 10 days"
So, winter would only last 2 1/2 days?
I wonder if that's what those on other planets may be saying. Out of trillions of star systems, I am confident they'll eventually find life on a planet similar to earth, at about one astronomical unit out. Besides, in the right conditions, life could be sustained on a planet many times further out from a star than our own earth is.
If the planet is tilted on it's axis like the Earth. :-)
IMHO this is hardy a "Super Earth". After reading the description of this planet I'd guess that there are only about 5 things that these two have in common.
As another poster said, "Super Mercury"
Well, if it's not tilted, we'll have to figure out a way to do so. Also, what is the rotation speed? Can't have it spinning like a top, trying to cram 365 sunsets into its 10-day year. I'd say slow it down to 20, 30 days maximum.
Plus, at 14 times the size of earth, gravity would be a bitch. I wouldn't even want to get out of bed in the morning!
You forgot the "with bone crunching gravity."
I could live with that; however I would want a bigger air conditioner for summer. LOL I'm too spoiled. :-)
As the article said...there isn't any morning on this supposed "Super Earth".
Told you there was something up with the Stars the other nite!
Typical August weather in Houston.
The Stars were Twinkling like Christmas Lights on Tuesday over the Western Skies!
Maybe in holes at the poles...
Kewl, elections every forty days.
No,I couldn't take that!
There were lots of ice clouds in the sky.
It's just a matter of time and improved telescopes and techniques. There are a lot of earth size planets, have to be. Probably this one we are on is uniquely just right for us. Invoking the Anthropic Principle AKA Goldilocks.
And it was viewable on tuesday night! I think something or somebody is setting the stage for a major world event to happen, something weird is going on in the skies
On Tuesday? What are ice clouds?
NASA dropped another hint about Mars today. They want to be sure they are right, though.
So something BIG is happening with Mars? and they are not giving us the whole story?
You probably couldn't get out bed there if you wanted too.
Consider: If you weighed 170lbs on Earth, you'd weigh 14 X 170lbs = 2,380lbs
on the new planet -- over a ton! No human could take the gravity of that place.
What was the hint? What did Nasa say?
They are talking about methane and ammonia in the atmosphere. The only mechanism they know of that would sustain ammonia in the atmosphere is lifeforms now living. Possibly methane, too. UV from the sun would dissociate these compounds.
"elections every forty days."
Under CFR, no one could ever run ads.
Cirrus; they occur above 20,000 feet and can be thin and wispy or dense and translucent.
Yes, and the Democrats will support this research, if for no other end than to locate and register new "illegal aliens" to vote for them.
I don't think that is what I saw with the stars on tuesday night..What did you see?
What does that mean for the earth?
That might be a big deal for some of our social and political systems.
Based on the orbital speed and the gravitational mass, I would assume those rapidly aging super earthlings would be short and squashed with a bad temper based on the heat.
Very interesting Article....
So this is what passes as habitable to these scientists? You can get burnt to a crisp and dizzy on the same day.
At least it's not a black hole.
I was going to say essentially the same thing.
However, I also believe that we will never make contact with any of them (nor they with us) on account of the light barrier. I do not believe the light barrier will be conquered by any form of intelligent life and the many thousands of light-years to get from place to place at sub-light speeds will make intergalactic travel impractical because all living things have a finite life span.
I wasn't looking, I spend a bit of time on weather sites; an old habit from my days as a meteorological research assistant.
Just what I was thinking.
You have no idea ;-)
So a year is every ten days. Elections there occur every forty days. Mass 14 times that here.....Ted Kennedy would weigh..............
Actually it would have to happen on its vertical equatorial line. Sort of like Larry Niven's Ringworld off it's diet.
I imagine it would depend upon it's atmosphere. If it had a nice solid atmosphere convection could help it considering the tremenous temperaures on the sun side.
But then again we know that there are certain organisms that thrive in extreme temperatures.
But why is it not an "oddball" such as the "trio of roughly Earth-sized planets [that] was found in 2002 to orbit a dense stellar corpse..."?
Also have to agree that it is more a super-Mercury than an earth, I thought one basic qualification for being like earth was the ability to support evolving organic life forms...like earth.
Rocks seem common to the internal planets of a system, not just "earth".
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