Another day, another super-Earth? Not so fast. This one really is special.
Calling it “incredibly rare,” New Zealand astronomers say that the planet “is one of only a handful that have been discovered with both size and orbit comparable to that of Earth,” according to a statement.
The research about the discovery was published recently in a study in the Astronomical Journal.
How does this distant world and its star compare to our neighborhood? According to the study, the super-Earth’s host star is about 10% the mass of our sun, and the planet would have a mass somewhere between that of Earth and Neptune.
It would also orbit its star at a location between Venus and Earth.
However, as for life, or water, study authors say not to get our hopes up: “Although it’s not too much bigger than Earth, and orbiting its star at a similar distance, this planet would be very cold because its star is smaller than the sun and emits much less light,” study co-author Michael Abrow of New Zealand’s University of Canterbury told USA TODAY.
“Water could not exist in a liquid state and the likelihood of life would be very low,” he said. “Only a very few planets have been detected that may have suitable conditions for life.”
Another difference: Due to the host star having a smaller mass than our sun, the planet would have a “year” of approximately 617 days.
Study lead author Antonia Herrera-Martin, also of the University of Canterbury, said the planet was discovered using a technique called “gravitational microlensing.”
“The combined gravity of the planet and its host star caused the light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a particular way,” he said. “We used telescopes distributed around the world to measure the light-bending effect.”
The microlensing effect is rare, he said, with only about one in a million stars in the galaxy being affected at any given time.
In addition, this type of observation does not repeat, and the probabilities of catching a planet at the same time are extremely low, Martin said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Super-Earth discovered near center of our galaxy, a 1-in-a-million discovery