While analyzing data from the Cheops space telescope, ESA researchers have spotted an exoplanet that falls into the category of super-Earths.
Geneva/Darmstadt – A little less than 50 light years away from our solar system, with a radius 2.5 times the size of Earth and rich in water resources: The sighting of the exoplanet “Nu2 Lupi d” is one of the greatest achievements of space research this year. The appearance of the super-Earth on the images taken by the Cheops space telescope was a real chance find.
The research team around astrophysicist Laetitia Delrez (University of Liège in Belgium) actually wanted to dedicate themselves to two other exoplanets of the star system, when suddenly the planet appeared on the records.
Chance find “of highest relevance” – researchers discover exoplanet
The planet is both a chance find and something very special, say the experts who recorded and evaluated the discovery. The planet shows rare properties and, according to an announcement by the European Space Agency (ESA), “cannot be compared with any equivalent discovered so far”.
Transit systems like “Nu2 Lupi” are “highly relevant when it comes to understanding how planets form and evolve,” explains Delrez, who led the study. This is because they can be used to compare several planets in the same orbit in detail.
ESA finds super-Earth: “Nu2 Lupi d” is a chance find in space
The passing of planets by a star – so-called “transits” – are an excellent way to evaluate many properties of a planet. These include its atmosphere and size, orbit and composition, ESA explained in a news release. The orbit of the exoplanet observed by Delrez and her team lasted 107 days, the planet’s mass was 8.8 times that of Earth, and its radius was about 2.5 times larger, it said.
The sighting of the super-Earth is a minor sensation for science. The ESA, which operates the Cheops telescope, reports that this is the first time an exoplanet with an orbit of more than 100 days around a star visible to the naked eye has been detected. The sun-like star “Nu2 Lupi” with its exoplanets b, c and d is located in the constellation Lupus (Wolf). First discovered were the three exoplanets orbiting the star in 2019 by a space telescope in Chile.
Super-Earth “Nu2 Lupi d” discovered: comparatively low radiation and rich in water.
“The amount of radiation on planet d is relatively low compared to numerous other discovered exoplanets,” explains study co-author David Ehrenreich of the University of Geneva: “In our solar system, the planet’s orbit would place it between the planets Mercury and Venus.”
In his view, the planet’s sighting is an exciting avenue for further research, and the planet is an “exceptional object” overall. While many exoplanets are in star systems that are too dark for detailed study using current technical means, “Nu2 Lupi” offers researchers excellent conditions for further investigation, he said.
Researchers discover new exoplanets – none is habitable
Delrez’s team was also able to provide initial information on the composition of the planets around “Nu2 Lupi”: Planet “b” is primarily rocky, while planets “c” and “d” are far richer in water than Earth. However, the water on the planets is not liquid, but takes the form of highly concentrated ice or hot steam.