For the past 15 years, astronomers have been hoping to find a hidden planet orbiting the young star AU Microscopii, a red dwarf star about 32 light-years from Earth,media reported. In stellar terms, the star is still a baby, about 20 million years old, and its mass is about half that of the sun. It is also surrounded by dusty disks of debris.
The disk of debris has long complicated the search for suspected planets, and the young star’s magnetic field is troubling planetary hunters.
But now, thanks to the work of NASA’s TESS telescope and the recently decommissioned Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers report discovering AU Mic b, the first exoplanet in the system.
The researchers detailed their findings in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. According to it, AU Mic b is 58 times the size of Earth and runs every 8.5 days for one week. Its discovery is a boon for planetary hunters because the planet is so young that it gives astronomers a chance to understand the process of planet formation.
To discover the planet, astronomers used data collected by NASA’s TESS. It is reported that the satellite will be on a mission each time the large area of the sky for several weeks observation. In the process, it monitors thousands of stars and looks for periodic declines in star brightness, which may suggest that a planet has obscured the star for a short period of time, and that these changes in brightness may even explain the size and speed of the planet.
TESS detected two drops in brightness in 2018, and researchers turned to NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Telescope in 2019 to confirm that they were seeing a planet. Previously, the La Silla Observatory in Chile and The W. Data from the M. Keck Observatory helped confirm the results.
AU Mic b is suspected to be a gaseous planet and may even lose some of its atmosphere while orbiting its star.
“This star may not yet have time to form a small rocky planet,” Tom Barclay, a scientist at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, said in a press release. “
Next, researchers will continue to study the planet and hope to better understand its atmospheric composition. Such discoveries could help them bring back the planet’s origin points in the disk of debris and answer outstanding questions about the planet’s early life.