What would life be like on a planet orbiting a pulsar? Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way galaxy contains an estimated 1 billion neutron stars, of which about 200,000 are pulsars –neutron stars of only 10 to 30 kilometers in diameter with enormous magnetic fields, that accrete matter and regularly burst out large amounts of X-rays and other energetic particles. So far, 3000 pulsars have been studied and only 5 pulsar planets have been found. In 1992, the first exoplanets ever were discovered around pulsar PSR B1257+12.
“At five Earth masses, Planet Nine is likely to be very reminiscent of a typical extrasolar super-Earth,” says Konstantin Batygin, an assistant professor of planetary science and Van Nuys Page Scholar at Caltech. Super-Earths are planets with a mass greater than Earth’s, but substantially less than that of a gas giant. “It is the solar system’s missing link of planet formation. Over the last decade, surveys of extrasolar planets have revealed that similar-sized planets are very common around other sun-like stars. Planet Nine is going to be the closest thing we will find to a window into the properties of a typical planet of our galaxy.”
“What’s exciting is that these objects are completely different from the majority of Earth-like planets,” says Caroline Dorn, astrophysicist at the Institute for Computational Science of the University of Zurich – “if they actually exist.” It’s very likely they do, says Dorn and the astrophysicists who made the discovery.
“The new planet is a ‘super-Earth’ orbiting the star HD 26965, which is only 16 light years from Earth, making it the closest super-Earth orbiting another Sun-like star,” says University of Florida (UF) astronomer Jian Ge, leader of the Dharma Planet Survey. “We may have discovered what may be Star Trek’s famed planet Vulcan. The planet is roughly twice the size of Earth and orbits its star with a 42-day period just inside the star’s optimal habitable zone.”