Washington, Sep 11: Yes, you have read it right. Astronomers have found a new planet-Wolf 503b, an exoplanet about twice the size of our own Earth - a mere 145 light years away, in the Virgo constellation.
A new study
Using data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, Merrin Peterson of the Université de Montreal (UdeM) led an international team of researchers who discovered an exoplanet twice as large as Earth. The find is described in a new study led by Peterson, who just started her master's degree at the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) at UdeM. "The discovery and confirmation of this new exoplanet was very rapid, thanks to the collaboration that I and my advisor, Björn Benneke, are a part of," Peterson said.
How did they discover the planet?
The planet was found by observing the changes in the light that the dwarf star (named, of course, Wolf 503) exhibits as the planet crosses in front of it; since Wolf 503b orbits its sun every six days, and is approximately 10x closer to its sun than our planet Mercury is ours, the effect it creates on the light from this star is readily seen by a telescope of Kepler's capability.
About Wolf 503b
The exoplanet, named Wolf 503b, is about 145 light years from Earth and is found in the Virgo constellation and it orbits its star in only six days. The planet orbits its star even closer than Mercury orbits our Sun, meaning that the planet is incredibly hot.
Nothing like 503b in our solar system
Since there are no planets in our solar system of Wolf 503b's size, astronomers aren't sure whether exoplanets like this are rocky or gaseous.
So it's a rare opportunity to study such a planet, and potentially figure out if those kinds of planetary bodies are likely to be rocky and Earth-like, or more gaseous, like Neptune. Because the star that 503b revolves around is relatively close to us, it's very bright; this will allow more detailed study and inferences about its density and mass.