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Rocky Planet Orbiting Iron-Poor, Ancient Milky Way Star

13 Jan 2021, 22:45 UTC
Rocky Planet Orbiting Iron-Poor, Ancient Milky Way Star
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IMAGE: Illustration showing the structural components of the Milky Way galaxy. The star TOI-561 is located in the thick disk (marked in red-orange), which contains a rare, older population of stars. While nearly all known planets are found within the thin disk (marked in orange), the newly discovered rock-and-lava exoplanet orbiting TOI-561 is one of the first confirmed rocky planets orbiting a galactic thick disk star. CREDIT: Kaley Brauer, MIT

Researchers using data collected with NASA’s TESS spacecraft and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii have found a rocky planet. That story normally wouldn’t be news, but this planet orbits an extremely old star in our Milky Way that is in what we call the “thick disk”. This means that the star is located within the red-orange oval in the graphic rather than the thin yellow oval where the majority of stars and planets exist.

The stars in the thick disk are unusual. They are far older, on the order of 10 billion years old. They are considered metal-poor, and in this instance, TOI-561 has about 50% the metallicity of our Sun, which used to mean we didn’t expect them to have rocky planets in their orbit. And finally, they have ...

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