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Spring 2018

Inquiry Magazine Archive


Earth 2.0

UTA astrophysicists discover evidence of Earth-like planet 

Two earths

The search for another Earth could be closer than we think: A team of UTA astrophysicists has predicted that a planet similar to ours may be orbiting a star only 16 light years away.

Physics researcher Suman Satyal, undergraduate John Griffith, and Professor Zdzislaw Musielak have found that an Earth-mass planet with a dynamically stable configuration may reside in star system Gliese 832.

Gliese 832 is a red dwarf with a mass and radius about half of those of Earth's sun. Two planets orbit the star, including a super-Earth planet called Gliese 832c, which was discovered in 2014. This planet is about five times larger than Earth, potentially rocky, and residing about 0.16 AU—i.e., very close—to its host star.

Dr. Satyal estimates that "this hypothetical alien world would reside between the two known planets and would probably have a mass between 1 to 15 Earth's masses."

Physics Chair Alexander Weiss praises the team on its findings.

"The fact that Dr. Satyal was able to demonstrate that the planet could maintain a stable orbit in the habitable zone of a red dwarf for more than 1 billion years is extremely impressive and demonstrates the world-class capabilities of our department's astrophysics group."

To estimate the planet's location and orientation, Satyal's team used the numerical simulation method to integrate the orbits of the planetary system for up to 1 billion years and calculated the most probable stable orbits. The researchers also generated the synthetic radial velocity curves from the integrated data and used them to estimate the upper limit of the planetary mass. The findings were published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

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