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Incredible achievement: India discovers planet, joins distinguished league

10 June 2018

Scientists, from the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) at Ahmedabad have put India in the elite league of countries who have discovered planets around stars. The team found the planet to be smaller in size than Saturn and bigger than Neptune. The planets around red dwarf K2-240 are about twice the size of Earth.

"Although the atmospheric temperature of red dwarf stars, around which these planets revolve, is 3,450 and 3,800 Kelvin respectively, nearly half the temperature of our Sun", the researchers said. Such a high temperature might make it uninhabitable for living creatures. The scientists estimate that over 60% of its mass could be made up of heavy elements like ice, silicates and iron.

EPIC 211945201b (or K2-236b) is the name given to the planet by the discovery team led by PRL's Abhijit Chakraborty.

Initially, it was Nasa's K2 (Kepler2) photometry that found that the source was a planetary candidate as it was transiting, where the planet body comes between the star and the observer on Earth. They integrated the spectrograph with a 1.2m telescope at PRL's Gurushikar Observatory in Mount Abu, to measure the mass of the planet, leading to the discovery.

The PARAS reads the entire electromagnetic spectrum from microwave to infrared radiation which allows the scientists to read the composition of the planet, surface temperature, and the nature of the atmosphere. Significantly, the discovery was made using a PRL-designed spectrograph, PARAS, to measure and confirm the mass of the new planet. These type of spectrographs exist mostly in the United States of America and in the Europe that can do such precise measurements. However, he said, radial velocity observations as made in this case "are not, in general, discovery observations but [a] look at already known planetary systems for a better understanding of their nature".

According to the definition, these are the planets which orbit a star outside the solar system. "Extra" implies that these are outside our solar system. All these planets apparently do not reside in their stars' habitable zone as they are orbiting very close to their red dwarfs. Also, they are extremely far away.

The first exoplanetary system is located about 160 light years from Earth. The first exoplanet (51 Pegasi b) was discovered by Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz in 1995.

Incredible achievement: India discovers planet, joins distinguished league