For the first time ever, Indian scientists have discovered a planet that orbits a Sun-like star.
The announcement was made yesterday by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which noted that the discovery was made possible by an advanced spectrograph of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, western India — “the first of its kind spectrograph in the country.”
This historic achievement is credited to a team of astronomers led by Prof. Abhijit Chakraborty of PRL, which used the “PRL Advance Radial-velocity Abu-Sky Search,” or PARAS, to track down the celestial body.
Stationed at PRL’s Guru Shikhar Observatory in Mount Abu, Rajasthan, PARAS is a ground-based exoplanet search device with an integrated spectrograph and a 1.2-meter telescope, notes The Better India.
Sub-Saturn Or Super-Neptune
The newfound exoplanet lies 600 light-years away from Earth and is described as a sub-Saturn or super-Neptune, due to its mass and size.
“It is closer to Neptune,” Chakraborty told Times Of India, revealing that the exoplanet has 27 times the mass of Earth and six times its radius.
By comparison, Neptune’s mass is 17 times that of our planet, whereas the gas giant Saturn weighs a staggering 95 Earth masses.
“This detection is important as it adds to a sparse catalog of confirmed exoplanets with masses between 10 to 70 the mass of Earth and radii between four to eight the radius of Earth,” ISRO officials wrote in the news release.
“Only 23 such systems (including the present) are known to this date with such precise measurement of mass and radii,” states the Indian space agency.
Epic Discovery, Epic Name
India’s trailblazing discovery was marked by giving the planet and its host star a name to be remembered. The two celestial bodies now have epic names, literally.
The star’s official designation is EPIC 211945201, or K2-236, whereas the planet orbiting it will be henceforth known as EPIC 211945201b, or K2-236b.
The newly discovered exoplanet is likely uninhabitable, due to its close proximity to its host star. K2-236b sits seven times closer to K2-236 than the distance between Earth and the Sun.
This could mean that the exoplanet is inhospitable to life, especially considering that its surface temperature measures around 600 degrees Celsius (or about 1.112 degrees Fahrenheit).
Although there is little chance of finding signs of life on K2-236b, ISRO points out that its discovery is very significant because it can help astronomers find out more about how planets of this class — super-Neptune or sub-Saturn that sit very close to their host star — are formed.
A Year On The Newfound Planet Only Lasts 19.5 Days
Being in such close quarters with K2-236, the newly discovered planet takes a lot less time to complete a full orbit. By comparison with Earth, which needs 365.2 days to go around the Sun, K2-236b circles its star in only 19.5 days.
After observing the target for about 1.5 years, PARAS data established that the exoplanet is largely made up of heavy elements, such as like ice, silicates, and iron, which represent 60 to 70 percent of its total mass.
As ISRO explains, the exoplanet was initially targeted by NASA’s Kepler 2 (K2) photometry. K2 picked up the celestial body as a potential planetary candidate while it was transiting its host star, which explains the “K2” in the objects’ denomination.
“However, the K2 photometric data combined with false positive probability calculations was not sufficient to confirm the planetary nature of the system. Therefore, an independent measurement of the mass of the body was necessary for the discovery, which was made by the PARAS spectrograph,” revealed ISRO.
With this momentous discovery, India now joins a select number of countries that have detected planets revolving around stars, notes Times Of India.
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