DEC 30, 2018 04:11 PM PST

Are Some Super-Earth Exoplanets Rich in Rubies and Sapphires?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Astronomers are always peeking through the lenses of their fancy space telescopes to learn more about the universe around us. One thing that captivates their interest the most is the bevy of distant exoplanets out there, especially those of the ‘super-Earth’ variety, which can be up to ten times more massive than Earth (hence the name).

While it seems logical that super-Earth exoplanets form via protoplanetary disks encircling young stars, the circumstances surrounding their formation remains a mystery. It’s entirely possible that the distance from the star governs the world’s chemical makeup, but this is challenging to confirm because super-Earth exoplanets are so distant and difficult to observe.

An artist's impression of HD219134 b and its host star.

Image Credit: Thibaut Roger

In a peculiar set of circumstances, a team of European researchers happened upon a fascinating super-Earth-like exoplanet 21 light-years away dubbed HD219134 b, and it may provide some much-needed insight. The researchers describe their findings this month in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

There’s certainly no shortage of super-Earth-like exoplanets out there, but HD219134 b was particularly striking because of its extraordinary characteristics. HD219134 b is around 10-20 percent less dense than other exoplanets in its class, and this could be because of its unique chemical makeup.

While many super-Earth-like exoplanets are thought to be rich in iron, HD219134 b exhibits higher concentrations of certain gemstone-forming elements like aluminum and calcium instead. This, paired with the high temperatures from orbiting its host star so closely, means that HD219134 b could be chock-full of rubies and sapphires.

"Perhaps it shimmers red to blue like rubies and sapphires because these gemstones are aluminum oxides, which are common on the exoplanet," explained Caroline Dorn, an astrophysicist from the University of Zurich.

Related: Astronomers capture the rare formation of a young exoplanet

At least two other known exoplanets exhibit similar circumstances, including 55 Cancri e and WASP-47 e. Admittedly, the situation on HD219134 b is just slightly more complicated, but the conditions are similar enough that the researchers have proposed an entirely new class of Earth-like exoplanets to be recognized by astronomers going forward.

"What's exciting is that these objects are completely different from the majority of Earth-like planets," Dorn added.

Related: An Eighth exoplanet has been found orbiting Kepler-90

As it would seem, we still have much to learn about the universe and how distant exoplanets form around their host stars, but this is a mystery that astronomers strive to solve. Perhaps more powerful space telescopes launching in the future will provide the detailed observations we need to validate these findings, but until then, all we can do is speculate.

Source: University of Zurich, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
DEC 13, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 13, 2019
Everything You Need to Know About NASA's Plans to Return to the Moon by 2024
It’s been 50 years since the late former NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface and muttered those famous words: “That&rsq...
DEC 13, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 13, 2019
SpaceX's Starhopper Prototype Makes First Untethered Flight
SpaceX made significant progress on its deep-space Starhopper starship project last week after a prototype of the spacecraft’s rocket conducted its f...
DEC 13, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 13, 2019
Trio Brought Home Breakthrough Physics Prize for Their Work on Supergravity
Announced on July 6, 2019, the Selection Committee of Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physic has picked three theoretical physicists, Sergio Ferr...
DEC 13, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 13, 2019
SpaceX Will Need to Demonstrate a Dragon Capsule Abort for NASA
NASA’s Commercial Crew initiative enabled third-party contractors such as Boeing and SpaceX to develop platforms that may be used in future crewed mi...
DEC 13, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 13, 2019
Can We Terraform Mars?
Space agencies and commercial space companies are taking the idea of colonizing Mars very seriously. There’s just one problem: the red planet isn&rsq...
DEC 13, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 13, 2019
Will ISRO Succeed At Building its Own Space Station?
When hearing the words “space station,” the International Space Station probably comes to mind; but the International Space Station wasn’...
Loading Comments...