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22 Jul, 2020 16:01

‘Goldilocks’ & the lost world: New technique for tracking far-away planets could help in search for HABITABLE regions of universe

‘Goldilocks’ & the lost world: New technique for tracking far-away planets could help in search for HABITABLE regions of universe

The rediscovery of a planet lost in outer space could signal the beginning of tracking a habitable world in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ of a far distant solar system.

The planet is one of hundreds of ‘lost’ planets discovered by astronomers from the University of Warwick, and was the result of a new way of tracking and logging planets in hopes of finding something similar to our own. 

Some of these lost planets reside in the Goldilocks zone – a particular range of orbits that allow the existence of liquid on a planet’s surface: too close to the sun and it will be too hot, too far away, too cold. 

To accomplish the research, the team adapted the usual transit method of tracking a planet, in which the telescope waits for a dip in light that indicates that there is an object passing between the telescope and a star. It then follows the planet’s trajectory for 27 days before it disappears. 

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In this instance, however, the team followed the planet and further tracked it from a different station, allowing them to assess its speed and therefore orbit.

With this new pioneering technique, the researchers found they were able to track these planets – which would usually disappear from view and become ‘lost’ – for a longer period of 79 nights, granting an additional understanding of their orbits, and therefore of their temperature. 

One of the ‘lost’ planets that was found, known as NGTS-11b, orbits a star 620 light-years away and the size and mass of Saturn, with an orbit of 35 days, making it much closer to its sun than we are. 

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Although 100 percent uninhabitable, it is thought to be much closer to “the Goldilocks zone than many previously discovered planets which typically have temperatures above 1,000°C [1,832°F],” said Dr. Samuel Gill from the department of physics at the university.

“Longer period planets are cooler, more like the planets in our own solar system. NGTS-11b has a temperature of only 160°C [320°F] — cooler than Mercury and Venus,” Gill added.

In any case, the findings open up a new world of potential planets that could potentially harbor extraterrestrial life, and are a landmark in how we will seek such planets out in the future.

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