So metal: Newly discovered exoplanet is likely over 80 percent iron

Image of a spacecraft in front of a star with planets.

Enlarge / The TESS planet-finding observatory. (credit: NASA)

For centuries, scientists only had a limited number of examples to look at when it came to understanding the formation of planets. As we’ve discovered ever-increasing numbers of worlds, however, we’ve found many that look like nothing what we have in our Solar System: hot gas giants, super-Earths, mini-Neptunes, and more. So, it can be a relief to find something that looks like a familiar planet, since it indicates the processes that formed the Solar System may not be unusual.

A new discovery definitely falls into that category, as researchers have announced finding what appears to be an extremely iron-rich planet that, at least composition-wise, is very similar to Mercury. The difference is that it’s nearly on top of its star and is probably hot enough that any iron on the surface could potentially be molten.

A very short year

The new planet was found orbiting a red dwarf star named GJ 367 that’s about 30 light years from Earth. Red dwarfs are small, dim stars, which makes identifying planets around them easier. A planet that orbits between a red dwarf and Earth will block out proportionally more of the star’s light. And, because the star is low mass, a planet’s gravity will cause it to shift further when it orbits, creating larger Doppler shifts in the light originating from the star.

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