By: April Carson
An exoplanet has been discovered orbiting one of two little stars in a binary system located in the Draco constellation some 100 light-years from Earth, according to a report released today by an international team of scientists. Charles Cadieux, a Ph.D. student at the Université de Montréal and member of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx), led the research team.
The new exoplanet discovered by astronomers is located in an area where it's not too hot or too cold for liquid water, which makes it a potential candidate to support life. The size and mass of the planet is slightly larger than Earth, but what's interesting is that this new world is believed to be completely covered with water--similar to some of Jupiter and Saturn's moons!
In collaboration with the team at LIGO and the University of Warwick, Dr. Cadieux and his colleagues published an article in The Astronomical Journal on August 12th describing the findings that explained this unusual planet's nature and features.
René Doyon, Université de Montréal Professor and Director of iREx as well as the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic (OMM), said with pride: “This discovery is a fantastic display of our high-quality researchers and instrumentation. We would have never found this exoplanet without the OMM, SPIRou--a special instrument designed in our labs--and an innovative analytic method created by our research team."
The discovery of this exoplanet was made possible by NASA's space telescope, TESS. By surveying the entire sky, TESS is able to locate other planetary systems close to our own. In this instance, scientists were able to predict that there was an exoplanet based on a signal which showed a decrease in brightness every 11 days. This planet ended up being about 70% larger than Earth!
In the wake of discovering previously unknown planets, Dr. Cadieux belongs to a team of astronomers who do ground follow-up studies on candidates identified by TESS in order to verify their planet type and features. He uses PESTO, a camera built by Université de Montréal Professor David Lafrenière and his Ph.D. student François-René Lachapelle that is installed on the OMM's telescope.
“TESS detected the signal, which was analyzed by the OMM. The OMM was essential in verifying and estimating the planet's radius. This was no typical check. We had to ensure that TOI-1452's exoplanet circling the binary system's largest star generated the signal observed by TESS.”
TOI-1452 is a small host star that is one of two stars of comparable size in the binary system. The twin stars orbit each other and are separated by such a tiny distance — 97 astronomical units, or about twice the distance between the Sun and Pluto — that they appear as a single point of light to TESS. PESTO's resolution, on the other hand, was sufficient to distinguish the two objects, with subsequent observations by a Japanese team confirming that TOI-1452 does orbit the exoplanet.
The researchers then used SPIRou, an instrument installed on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii, to examine the system. Because it works in the infrared spectrum, where these stars are most brilliant, SPIRou is ideal for studying low-mass stars like TOI-1452. It took more than 50 hours of observation to estimate the planet's mass, which is thought to be about five times greater than Earth's.
Researchers étienne Artigau and Neil Cook, both from the Université de Montréal, played a crucial role in interpreting the data. They created an advanced analytical technique that may be used to find planets such as the one discovered by our team in data collected with SPIRou. “The LBL approach [for line-by-line] allows us to clean the data obtained with SPIRou of many parasite signals, allowing us to see the faint signature of planets like ours that were previously undetectable,” added Artigau.
Farbod Jahandar and Thomas Vandal, both Ph.D. students at the Université de Montréal, are also a part of this discovery team. By analyzing the host star’s composition, Jahandar was able to constraint the planet’s internal structure while Vandal helped collect data using SPIRou.
The exoplanet TOI-1452 b is rocky like Earth, but its size and composition suggests a world that's very different from our own. Our planet is mostly dry; even though we call it the Blue Planet because of all the water covering its surface, ocean only makes up less than 1% of Earth's total mass. In contrast, TOI-1452 b seems to be entirely covered in a deep ocean.
This new discovery raises some intriguing questions about the possibility of life on other worlds. Could an all-ocean planet support life? Or would the constant darkness and high pressures make it an inhospitable place for any known form of life?
On certain exoplanets, water may be considerably more plentiful. Over the last decade, astronomers have identified and measured the radius and mass of a growing number of exoplanets with sizes ranging from Earth to Neptune (about 3.8 times bigger than Earth). Some of these planets have a density that can only be explained if a significant portion of their weight is made up of lighter substances than those that make up the Earth's internal structure, such as water. These "ocean planets" have been dubbed such.
Out of all the planets discovered thus far, TOI-1452 b is one of the strongest contenders for an ocean world,” said Cadieux. “When looking at its radius and mass in relation to each other, we infer that it has a lower density than what is typical for rocky Earth-like planets.”
Exoplanet interior modelers and University of Toronto specialists, Mykhaylo Plotnykov and Diana Valencia, have discovered that water may make up to 30% of TOI-1452 b's mass. This proportion is similar to some natural satellites in our Solar System--such as Jupiter's moons Ganymede and Callisto, or Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus.
“If TOI-1452 b only had a thin veneer of water on top of a rocky core like Earth, it would have been much easier to detect than an ocean world,” saidPlotnykov. “This is why we think that the lack of a solid surface on TOI-1452 b greatly increases the likelihood that it is indeed an ocean world.”
The findings were published in The Astronomical Journal.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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