Planet like pure iron

HeidelbergAnd AM 12.12.2021

Exoplanet GJ 367b is one of the smallest planets ever discovered. But that’s not the only thing that makes it special.

It is small, light and fast, but at the same time very dense: exoplanet GJ 367b is certainly one of the most surprising celestial bodies among exoplanets that is not poor in alien species. Christine Lamm from the Institute for Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and her team presented it to «Science” Before.

GJ 367b orbits its star, a red dwarf, just 31 light-years from Earth and is slightly larger than Mars. This makes it one of the smallest exoplanets discovered to date, with a mass about half that of Earth. At the same time, it is very compact and has a density almost the same as that of pure iron. It takes just eight hours to orbit its parent star, while in our solar system Mercury takes a full 88 days.

“From the exact determination of its radius and mass, GJ 367b can be classified with certainty as a rocky planet,” says Lamm. “In terms of size and composition, they are reminiscent of Mercury and therefore belong to the terrestrial planets.” This makes the search a step forward in the search for a “second Earth,” according to the astronomer.

Because of its extremely short orbital period, the celestial body belongs to the “Ultra-Short Period Planets” (USP), the origin of which is still unknown. It was detected by the transit method, in which minimal differences in brightness in the light of a star are measured as the planet passes over it. It is one of the most common ways to search for exoplanets, which in this case was discovered with the help of NASA’s TESS space telescope.

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The high density of GJ 367b indicates that the exoplanet has a large iron core. “These properties are similar to those of Mercury, which, with its disproportionately large iron-nickel core, differs from other terrestrial bodies in the solar system,” says DLR’s Szilárd Csizmadia, who was involved in the study. Because the planet orbits so close to its star, it is exposed to much higher radiation: 500 times more powerful than Earth. Its surface temperature can reach 1,500 degrees Celsius, a temperature at which many rocks and minerals melt.

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