University Of Chicago Astrophysicists Use NASA's TESS Satellite To Discover New Planet Orbiting A Star Near Earth

WBBM Newsradio Staff
July 04, 2020 - 3:55 pm
CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Chicago astrophysicists have discovered a new world — literally. 
For decades, a nearby star, named AU Microscopii, has intrigued astronomers as a possible home for planets.
Now, the University of Chicago scientists, using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and retired Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered a planet about as large as Neptune — one that circles the young star in just over a week.
The new planet, named AU Mic b, is just 32 light-years away from Earth, according to a paper about the findings published in Nature by the U Chicago scientists. 
Emily Gilbert, a graduate student at U Chicago and co-author of the paper, said the planet is unique because the star it's orbiting is very young, only about 20 million years old, which allows scientists to study what happens to planets in the early stages of their lives.
“Most exoplanets we know of orbit stars that are billions of years old,” said Gilbert in a NASA Space Flight Center article. 
Still surrounded by a disk of debris leftover from its formation, AU Microscopii offers a one-of-kind laboratory for studying how planets and their atmospheres form, evolve and interact with their stars, according to the paper. Known as AU Mic for short, the star lays at the center of a touchstone system, which can help further research into the formation and evolution of stars and planets for decades to come.

“AU Mic is a young, nearby M dwarf star. It’s surrounded by a vast debris disk in which moving clumps of dust have been tracked, and now, thanks to TESS and Spitzer, it has a planet with a direct size measurement,” co-author Bryson Cale told NASA, a doctoral student at George Mason University. “There is no other known system that checks all of these important boxes.”

The research team plans to monitor the star with "precise radial velocity measurements" and will release more findings about it in the future. 

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