While one scientist might fill his laboratory research notebook with new inventions or chemical equations, others fill theirs with the dimensions of new planets. Such is the case with one astrophysicist and his team that discovered a new exoplanet with the help of the Kepler space telescope.
What Is an Exoplanet?
An exoplanet is a planet that exists outside of our solar system. One of the main differences between an exoplanet and the planets within our solar system is the fact that science is always limited by its existing knowledge base. Right now, that knowledge base is limited to what is known about the solar system those scientists live in, rather than the surrounding ones. That limitation can lead to concepts that simply don’t work outside of this solar system. Such is the case with exoplanet BD+205946.
Rocky Instead of Gassy
Based on what is known about this solar system, certain assumptions were made about planets like BD+205946. One of the assumptions was that it would be mostly a gassy planet. Those assumptions proved incorrect. It is actually mostly made up of rocky material. In fact, this exoplanet is now the largest rocky planet known. As of 2014, Kepler 10c was known as the largest rocky exoplanet that the world was aware of.
Details About the Largest Rocky Exoplanet
While each laboratory research notebook is full of information that the average person may not be able to comprehend, it’s easy enough to break things down so that they are concepts that are easier to grasp. This planet orbits in a different solar system. It is found in the Taurus constellation, 500 light-years away.
The mass of the Earth is 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter. By contrast, the largest rocky exoplanet is 8 grams per cubic centimeter. Its width is double that of the Earth, as well, and it is 16 times as massive as the Earth.
There have always been a lot of questions about the justification of the budget allocated to exploring space. Some people feel it is a waste of time, while others recognize the need to search for answers to many questions. The Kepler space telescope was one of the things that was questioned. It monitors space by watching for any silhouettes that pass by existing stars. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the object orbits the star it passes in front of, but it gives a good idea of its size and location.
Some may see the fact that the exoplanet wasn’t gassy as originally thought to be a sign that scientists made a mistake. On the contrary; it may be more of a breakthrough than a mistake. Remember that scientists can only go by their existing database of knowledge. In this case, the estimations were so extremely different than the reality, that it opens a whole new door to future discoveries.
If solar systems outside of this one operate so differently such that the planet is rocky instead of gassy, what other rules may not apply? Do the rules vary from solar system to solar system, or is this just a fluke? Only more resources and focus on these discoveries can provide the answers.