Aided by a ground-based telescope, the transit of a super-Earth in front of a Sun-like star has been measured for the first time by a team of astronomers on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain. 55 Cancri e, as the exoplanet is called, orbits a star which is located as a distance of 40 light-years from Earth. It can be seen through the naked eye as a faint star. The scientists have achieved the measurement with the help of a moderate-sized, ground-based telescope located at La Palma’s international observatory. As the planet crossed the star, it caused dimming of the star’s light which was measured by the astronomers. The finding will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
According to the reports of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to analyze the atmosphere of the planet, it is very important to detect its transit. Calculations for the amount of starlight dimmed due to the transit of the planet suggest that the planet’s diameter is about twice that of Earth. It is eight times massive than Earth. Lead author Ernst de Mooij of Queen’s University Belfast in the U.K stated “Our observations show that we can detect the transits of small planets around Sun-like stars using ground-based telescopes.”
Mooij also emphasized the importance of this observation for future space missions in which scientists might find a number of small planets orbiting bright stars. Co-author Prof. Ray Jayawardhana of Canada’s York University commented “Observations like these are paving the way as we strive towards searching for signs of life on alien planets from afar.” Jayawardhana also added “Remote-sensing across tens of light-years isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right technique and a bit of ingenuity.”
As per the schedule, 2017 will mark the launch of NASA’s upcoming mission TESS and in 2024 the European Space Agency’s PLATO is scheduled to take off. Both of them are aiming to spot rocky Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars.