12 Jun 2018

India’s top space agency discovers an EPIC planet 600-light years away



Scientists at the Physical Research Laboratory at ISRO have been observing EPIC 211945201b for over a year now. 
The planet is 27 times the mass of Earth and has six times the radius, while being located over 600 light years away. 
It orbits its own parent sun, but completes a revolution in 19.5 days. 

It’s six times bigger than the Earth and over 600 light years away, and it’s one of the most ‘epic’ discoveries made by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Christened the EPIC 211945201b, the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad not only found a new planet in the deep recesses of space but was also able to measure its mass. 

There are only a handful of nations that have the capability to explore regions so far away, let alone discover entirely new planets. 

What’s so EPIC anyway?

The PRL Advance Radial-Velocity Abu-Sky Search ( PARAS), India’s first telescope designed specifically to make infrared observations, stumbled upon the exoplanet after NASA’s K2, a space observatory, picked up an anomaly in the brightness of one of the stars on its radar. 

They decided to explore the possibility of an exoplanet ‘transiting’ around the star that K2 had spotted. Exoplanets transiting around a star often lead to the star’s brightness changing. And thus, the 1.2m telescope, PARAS, was put to use from the Gurushikhar Observatory in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. 

The planet is a little bigger than Neptune but slightly smaller than Saturn. Just like the Earth, it orbits a central star but unlike our little blue planet, it burns at around 600°C. 

It takes only 19.5 days for the planet to complete one revolution around its parent star, EPIC 211945201 (or K2-236). That means it takes less than a month for the planet to complete, what would technically be, an Earth ‘year’. 

This measurement of mass, surface temperature and atmospheric conditions are only possible because PARAS doesn’t measure distances solely based on light. Rather, the telescope picks up the entire electromagnetic spectrum so that there’s a treasure trove of data to analyse. 

Using that data, PRL scientists who’ve been observing the planet for over a year now, claim that ice, iron and other heavy elements account for 60-70% of the planet’s mass. And the mass of the planet itself is 27 times that of the Earth. 

Though unique in its own way, this ‘epic’ planet is one of 22 other confirmed exoplanet systems with the same dimensions. Furthermore, it’s one of billions that’s currently uninhabited. Nonetheless, it could hold the key towards understanding how planetary systems are formed.

Source - NDTV 

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