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New Planet Discovered In Star Cluster Part of Taurus

Feb 25, 2016 03:18 PM EST

A really large new planet has been discovered in an open star cluster that is the nearest of its kind to Earth. A University of Texas astronomer Andrew Mann and colleagues made the discovery of the new planet, K2-25b, using the Kepler space telescope and that university's McDonald Observatory in the West Texas desert.

Findings on the study were recently published in the Astrophysical Journal.

This could help us learn more about how planets form and evolve. The open star cluster in question, the Hyades, can be seen in the horns of the constellation Taurus, the bull.

K2-25b is in the orbit of a red dwarf star, which is a type of star that is smaller and less bright than our Sun. These stars are the most plentiful in our galaxy. Because the stars in that cluster are young, its planets must be in their earlier years too.

"Open clusters are powerful tools as all the stars formed with the same age and composition," astronomer Mann said in a release. Therefore, when looking at a group of young stars and their planets, "we can compare those to planets orbiting older stars elsewhere to see if they are different in some fundamental way - to see how planets change with time."

One example is that we might learn migration patterns by looking at whether young planets are a greater distance from their focus stars than their longer-in-tooth counterparts. We'd conclude, then, that planets move and situate differently over their lifetimes.

The new planet is about the size of Neptune, four times the size of Earth. That's quite large compared with nearly all other planets that are known to be in the orbit of red dwarf stars. "Almost all of those are less than twice the size of Earth," Mann noted in the release.

That might be an indication that the planet has a "puffy" helium and hydrogen atmosphere.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales


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