The quasar, or galactic nucleus, RX J1131-1231 - which is located beyond the Milky Way. Scientists estimate that there are trillions of planets in the center elliptical galaxy in this image. (Credit: University of Oklahoma)
For the first time, scientists have discovered planets in galaxies beyond the Milky Way.
Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, a team of astrophysicists from the University of Oklahoma identified the extragalactic planets about 3.8 billion light years away. The space observatory helped scientists find about 2,000 objects with comparable mass to the Moon and Jupiter.
A light year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.
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The Oklahoma University team used a technique called microlensing, which identifies the gravitational signature of planets orbiting extremely distant stars.
“We are very excited about this discovery. This is the first time anyone has discovered planets outside our galaxy,” said Oklahoma University professor Xinyu Dai, in a statement. “These small planets are the best candidate for the signature we observed in this study using the microlensing technique. We analyzed the high frequency of the signature by modeling the data to determine the mass.”
Dai made the discovery with Postdoctoral Researcher Eduardo Guerras – their research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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Guerras said that the breakthrough highlights the power of the microlensing technique. “There is not the slightest chance of observing these planets directly, not even with the best telescope one can imagine in a science fiction scenario,” he explained in the statement. “However, we are able to study them, unveil their presence and even have an idea of their masses. This is very cool science.”
The Chandra X-ray observatory, which was launched into space in 1999, is controlled by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
The Milky Way, the galaxy containing our solar system, has hundreds of billions of stars, according to NASA.
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Other scientists have also published fascinating space research in recent years.
In a separate project, researchers announced last year that they may have spotted the first moon outside of our solar system. By harnessing data from the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers identified exomoon candidate Kepler-1625b. The moon, which is orbiting the star Kepler-1625, is approximately 4,000 light years away,
Also last year, scientists used data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope and machine learning technology from Google to discover a new planet outside of our solar system. Researchers identified Kepler-90i, a hot, rocky planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2,545 light years from Earth.
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