A number of planets described as Super-Earths have been discovered in recent memory, but scientists have recently seen one unlike any other found so far.
The planet, known as TOI-561 b, orbits the TOI-561 star system, according to a study published in The Astronomical Journal. It is about 50% larger than Earth, but it takes half the time to orbit its star given the close proximity between the two.
“The rocky planet orbiting TOI-561 is one of the oldest rocky planets discovered,” said the study’s lead author, Lauren Weiss, in a statement. “Its existence shows that the universe has formed rocky planets almost since its inception 14 billion years ago.”
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Given its proximity to TOI-561, discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), it has an estimated average surface temperature of over 2,000 degrees Kelvin. It’s too hot to host life now, but may have done so in the past.
It also surprised scientists, who believe they have a density similar to that of Earth, despite being billions of years older.
“This is surprising because you would expect the density to be higher,” UC Riverside planetary astrophysicist and study author Stephen Kane said in a separate statement. “This is in line with the notion that the planet is extremely ancient.”
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TOI-561 – which has at least two other planets orbiting it – is part of a group of stars known as “galactic thick disk”, which are chemically different but do not have heavy elements, such as iron or magnesium, the researchers explained .
As scientists discover more exoplanets, they continue to learn more about their mass and radius, and whether it could be habitable.
“Information about a planet’s interior gives us a sense of whether the planet’s surface is habitable by life as we know it,” Kane explained. “While this particular planet is unlikely to be inhabited today, it may be a sermon for many rocky worlds not yet discovered around our galaxy’s oldest stars.”
In May, a super-Earth was described as “one in a million” because it has a size and orbit similar to the Earth was discovered in deep space.
In June, a team of German astronomers discovered two super-Earths just 11 light-years from Earth.
A study published in October identified 24 potentially “superhabitable” planets that may have conditions more suitable for hosting life.
Separately in October, scientists discovered two planets, including a “Super-Earth” orbiting a red dwarf 120 light-years from Earth.
A total of more than 4,500 exoplanets have been discovered by NASA, of which approx. 50 were considered potentially habitable from September 2018. They have the right size and the orbit of their star to support surface water and at least theoretically to support life.
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Fox News’ Julia Musto contributed to this story.