Discovery Alert: Earth-sized planet with 17-hour year found

New Delhi: In an exciting development, scientists have discovered an Earth-sized exoplanet, Speculos-3b, orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star about 55 light-years away from Earth. On a cosmic scale, this distance is relatively close, highlighting the increasing potential for discovery of more exoplanets in our stellar neighborhood.

SPECULOOS-3 b is approximately similar in size to Earth, which offers interesting possibilities for comparative planetary studies. However, its orbit around its host star differs dramatically from Earth's year-long journey around the Sun. SPECULOOS-3 b completes a full orbit in just 17 hours, showing that it is extremely close to its star.

Because of this proximity, scientists believe that SPECULOOS-3 b is tidally locked. This means that one side of the planet, called the day side, constantly faces the star, resulting in continuous daylight, while the other side, called the night side, is shrouded in eternal darkness. This phenomenon is similar to how the Moon is tidally locked to Earth, always showing the same face to our planet.

The discovery was made by the SPECULOOS (Search for Habitable Planets, EClipsing ULtra-cool Stars) project, an initiative focused on identifying potentially habitable planets around ultra-cool dwarf stars. These stars are smaller and cooler than our Sun, making it easier to detect Earth-sized planets in their habitable zones. The habitable zone is the region around a star where conditions may be right for liquid water to exist, a key ingredient for life as we know it.

SPECULOOS-3 b joins the growing list of Earth-sized exoplanets found in habitable zones, but the extreme conditions on this planet present unique challenges to habitability. Constant daylight on one side and constant darkness on the other can cause huge differences in temperature, potentially affecting atmospheric and surface conditions.

Researchers are eager to make further observations to understand the planet's atmosphere and its potential to support life. Future studies will focus on characterizing atmospheric composition and looking for habitable signals, such as the presence of water vapor or other biosignatures.

A representative of the Speculos project said, “Finding an Earth-sized planet around an extremely cool star is a step forward in our quest to find habitable worlds beyond our solar system.” The discovery not only expands our understanding of planetary systems around different types of stars, but also moves us closer to answering the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe.

As technology and methods for detecting exoplanets continue to improve, the discovery of potentially habitable worlds is becoming more promising. SPECULOOS-3 b represents an important milestone in this ongoing journey, offering a glimpse of the diverse range of planets present in our galaxy.

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