Vanderbilt University astronomers help NASA discover rare planet

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s a discovery out of this world. Literally.

We are now aware of a newly formed Neptune-like planet, thanks to a star map created by astronomers at Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt astronomers, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, and recently decommissioned Spitzer Space Telescope have led to the discovery of AU Mic b, a newly formed Neptune-like exoplanet located a relatively short 31.9 light-years away.

To put it more simply, this solar system, otherwise known as the “touchstone system” is basically our next-door neighbor.

The exoplanet is named in connection with the star it orbits, AU Microscopii, referred to as AU Mic. AU Mic is known as a “touchstone system,” a star close enough to be used to study the formation and evolution of stars and planets.

“As an astrophysicist who studies stars and planets, to have the opportunity to find a first-ever of anything, but in particular, to find a first-ever newborn planet around one of our nearest neighboring stars is incredibly exciting,” said Keivan Stassun, Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy and co-investigator of the TESS mission.

Stassun says the discovery took around a year and a half.

“At first you go wait, no, it couldn’t be, right, but wouldn’t it be great if it was? Okay, we better really be sure, okay, look at the data, start over again. Man, it really looks like it is, okay what could this mean? Could this mean we have a planet orbiting this young storm? Okay, that means we have this newborn planet, oh my gosh, this is the greatest thing ever,” Stassun said when asked what it was like to discover the new planet.

Now, astronomers like Stassun are studying whether or not the planet is habitable for future human generations.

​”There are hints in the light signals in this light system there may be another planet further out from the star,” said Stassun. “If that’s true, if it’s further away from the star, at a little bit of a safer distance, that planet could be habitable already.”

The M dwarf star is approximately 22 million years old – 150 times younger than our Sun, it’s basically a toddler star.

AU Mic b orbits AU Mic in just over eight days and has a mass like Neptune’s, less than 58 times that of Earth.

If you would like to learn more, click here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Don't Miss

Trending Stories