For the first time ever, astronomers have discovered a set of planets in a galaxy, far beyond the Milky Way. Until now, scientists had never found evidence of planets existing outside the Milky Way Galaxy. The newly-found set of planets are located in a galaxy 3.8 billion light-years away.
Eureka! Astrophysicists at the University of Oklahoma have discovered the first population of planets outside of our galaxy.
The groundbreaking discovery was made possible thanks to a revolutionary technique called microlensing, which allowed astrophysicists to spot celestial objects in galaxies that are located too far away to be observed directly.
Astrophysicists note that this discovery indicates that there are around 2,000 planets ranging in size from the moon to Jupiter mass per main-sequence star. As of January 2018, there are more than 3,500 confirmed planets outside of our solar system.
Prior to this finding, researchers had never found evidence of planets existing in other galaxies. This is because detecting alien planets is hard due to vast distances involved. In fact, it’s not easy to find planets even within the milky way. The farthest planets discovered inside the Milky Way are SWEEPS-04 and SWEEPS-11, two alien worlds located about 27,000 light-years from Earth, which is curiously only about a quarter of the width of the Milky Way.
By using microlensing techniques, which take advantage of distortions of light from a background source much like a magnifying glass to see distant objects, astronomers spotted a family of planets. Massive objects like black holes for example literally curve the fabric of space-time so much that it bends any light passing by it.
“We are very excited about this discovery. This is the first time anyone has discovered planets outside our galaxy,” Xinyu Dai, professor in the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy, OU College of Arts and Sciences.
“These small planets are the best candidate for the signature we observed in this study using the microlensing technique. We analyzed the high frequency of the signature by modeling the data to determine the mass.”
Until now, microlensing techniques were only used to detect alien worlds inside the Milky Way Galaxy.
“This is an example of how powerful the techniques of analysis of extragalactic microlensing can be. This galaxy is located 3.8 billion light-years away, and there is not the slightest chance of observing these planets directly, not even with the best telescope one can imagine in a science fiction scenario,” said OU postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras.
“However, we are able to study them, unveil their presence and even have an idea of their masses. This is very cool science.”
Researchers used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to make the discovery.
The historic find was published in The Astrophysical Journal
Source: University of Oklahoma