BRITISH COLUMBIA

'Super-Earth' Planet Discovery Confirmed By UBC Astronomer

12/18/2014 04:35 EST | Updated 12/18/2014 04:59 EST
Courtesy of Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astroph

A team of astronomers, including one from the University of British Columbia, has confirmed the existence of a new "Super-Earth" planet in a galaxy far, far away.

The planet, officially dubbed HIP 116454b, is 180 light years away from Earth, said a UBC news release on Thursday. It is 12 times the mass of Earth and 2.5 times its diameter.

"It could be a miniature version of the ice giant planet Neptune," said Jaymie Matthews, a UBC astronomer and mission scientist with Canada’s first space telescope. "An even more exciting possibility is that it’s three-quarters water."

The exoplanet — meaning it orbits a star outside of our solar system — circles its sun every 9.1 days. It is too close to its sun to be lived on, but Matthews says there may be more out there.

“This Super-Earth may have neighbours, and one might be in the star’s habitable zone," he said. "Only time and careful study of this system will tell.”

HIP 116454b was first seen by a group of U.S. researchers who were using data from K2, NASA's Kepler space telescope's new mission. They thought they had spotted a new planet, but the satellite moved on from that part of the sky before they could confirm it. So Matthews and his team positioned MOST (the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars satellite) to verify what the Kepler saw.

nasa kepler sattelite

This artistic concept shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft.

"The Kepler mission showed us that planets larger in size than Earth and smaller than Neptune are common in the galaxy, yet they are absent in our solar system," Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field said in a NASA press release on Thursday.

"K2 is uniquely positioned to dramatically refine our understanding of these alien worlds and further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune."

The rest, you could say, is out of this world.

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