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NASA: New Earth-Mass Ice Ball Planet 'Colder Than Hoth' Discovered Through Microlensing

Apr 28, 2017 08:05 AM EDT
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'Iceball' Planet Discovered Through Microlensing
This artist's concept shows OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb, a planet discovered through a technique called microlensing.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A new planet about the same mass as Earth, called OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb, was discovered through a process called microlensing. NASA says the ice ball planet is "colder than Hoth" and is orbiting its star at the same distance that the Earth orbits the Sun.

Although it won't be habitable due to a very faint star, the discovery of this new planetary system will help scientists understand different star systems in the universe.

"This 'iceball' planet is the lowest-mass planet ever found through microlensing," Yossi Shvartzvald, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California and lead author of a study, said in a press release.

The findings of the study were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The ice ball planet was discovered by using the microlensing method. Microlensing uses background stars as flashlights in order to discover distant objects. When a star crosses or transits another bright star at the back, the gravity of the foreground star shifts the focus of light to the background star making it shine brighter. This way, a planet can also be identified as a "blip" that lasts for only a few hours.

According to NASA, many other exoplanets were identified using microlensing. This process can also detect planets that orbit farther than their star compared to the distance between Earth and the Sun.

NASA's discovery of the iceball planet will help scientists in their mission to understand the distribution of planets in the galaxy. It isn't habitable because it is colder than Hoth with a temperature of minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit, according to CNN.

In order to arrive at their findings, scientists used different instruments including the Korea Microlensing Telescope Network (KMTNet) by the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute and NASA Spitzer.

"Although we only have a handful of planetary systems with well-determined distances that are this far outside our solar system, the lack of Spitzer detections in the bulge suggests that planets may be less common toward the center of our galaxy than in the disk," Geoff Bryden, astronomer at JPL and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

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