Discovery Made Using Data From Kepler Space Telescope
Merrin Peterson, a graduate student at the Université de Montréal's Institute for Research on Exoplanets, and colleagues made the discovery using data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.
Peterson and colleagues said that Wolf 503b is an interesting world, not only because of its size that makes it a potential super-Earth. The exoplanet in the Virgo constellation also orbits around its parent star once every six days. Its proximity to its star is about 10 times closer than the distance between Mercury and our sun.
"Wolf 503b is one of the only planets with a radius near the gap that has a star that is bright enough to be amenable to more detailed study that will better constrain its true nature," explained study researcher Björn Benneke, from UdeM.
Researchers now get a chance to have a better understanding of the origin of this radius gap and the nature of the populations of super-Earths and sub-Neptunes. Petersen said that investigating the nature of Wolf 503b can shed more light on the structure of planets near the radius gap, and the diversity of exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy.
"Wolf 503b offers a key opportunity to better understand the origin of this radius gap as well as the nature of the intriguing populations of "super-Earths" and "sub-Neptunes" as a whole," the researchers wrote in their study.
Prime Target For James Webb Space Telescope
Researchers also said that the star of the Wolf 503b system is relatively close to our home planet and thus appear very bright. Wolf 503 is confirmed to be an old orange dwarf that is slightly less luminous than our parent star.
The brightness of Wolf 503 makes it a prime target for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in March 2021.
A technique known as transit spectroscopy can make it possible for scientists to study the chemical content of the planet's atmosphere, as well as detect the presence of molecules of water and hydrogen. These studies will be crucial to confirm if this world's atmosphere is similar to that of the Earth or completely different from the atmospheres of the planets in the Solar System.
Similar observations are not possible with most planets found by Kepler as their host stars tend to be much fainter.