July 5, 2022

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The most famous exoplanet in the universe, a door to a habitable world

The most famous exoplanet in the universe, a door to a habitable world




its name Gliese 486 B, located just 26 light-years away – very close to an astronomical scale – and is, so far, the exoplanet best described by science. It’s almost improbable that it could harbor liquid water on its surface, and perhaps life is an illusion there, but astronomers know it so well that they think it might be. ‘Rosetta Stone’ To find a world similar to Earth in the future.

he is Super Earthalso called rocky planets similar to ours but the largest and most massive, were
Discover in 2021
Thanks to the Carmenes instrument of the Calar Alto Observatory (Almería) using the radial velocity method.

Since then, an international team led by the Center for Astrobiology (CAB, CSIC-INTA) has dedicated itself to examining it. With the help of a battalion of observatories, including the famous Hubble Space Telescope or finder
outer planets
Tess, both from NASA, measured the mass and radius of Gliese 486 b with unprecedented accuracy and modeled its interior in detail impossible for other, more fainter and distant objects.

Thus, they were able to determine that the exoplanet is larger than initially thought – it has three Earth masses – with a radius slightly larger than the planet Earth (1.3 Earth radii). In addition, it consists of a small metal core surrounded by a silicate coating with melt water.

hot world

An exoplanet orbits a star completely different from the Sun, Gliese 486, a cool and faint red dwarf in the constellation Virgo. It is only 2.5 million kilometers (0.017 AU) separated, which is 60 times closer than its star. from the sun, so the “year” there lasts only 1.5 days. To get an idea of ​​how close it is: Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, is 0.4 AU.

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Because it’s so close to its star – and even though it’s so cold – Gliese 486 b is a hot planet. According to theoretical models, without an atmosphere, the surface of this world would exceed 400 ° C. However, you may have one, which should cool down the temperatures significantly. The shell will consist of a mixture of water vapor and carbon dioxide. It is not excluded that the planet is a bare rock without an atmosphere, but it could also contain a very thin or very large layer of hydrogen and helium,” says Amado.

These options will be tested by the best space telescope ever, James Webb, which was launched last December. It will soon point its segmented mirror at this system and help remove any doubts about its atmosphere.


Regarding its habitability, “we don’t expect it to have liquid water on its surface, but we still can’t say whether or not life is possible there,” Pedro J. Amado, of the Institute for Astrophysics in Andalusia (IAA-CSIC), tells this newspaper.) and co-author of the study.

What is clear is that this planet is a veritable “Rosetta Stone” to search for other habitable candidates. “There is no other exoplanet that has been so well studied as this one,” says the researcher. “Being very close, and therefore very bright, and having a very ‘quiet’ star (which barely shows a shift due to magnetic activity), we studied it carefully, analyzing a large number of parameters,” he says.

One of these parameters «is the abundance of chemical elements of the star, which in turn should represent those chemical elements present on the planet (since they were formed at the same time and from the same cloud of gas and dust). This relative abundance of chemical elements (iron, silicates, water) allowed us to constrain models of the internal structure,” says the researcher.

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The first exoplanet orbiting a star similar to our Sun, 51 Pegasi b, was discovered in 1995. Since then, we already know about 5,000 and the astronomical community has discovered worlds less massive, close, and similar to Earth. Gliese 486 B It will help you find them.

see them