Montrealers have reason to be proud next time they look up at the night sky. A new exoplanet the size of Neptune has been discovered thanks to the work of Montreal scientist Jonathan Gagné. The planet was discovered around the star AU Microscopii (AU Mic), a 20 to 30 million-year-old star about 32 light-years away from Earth.
Scientists have been looking for planets around the smallish star "for more than a decade," finally discovering the planet they call AU Mic b early this year.
"AU Mic is a small star, with only about 50 percent of the Sun's mass,” said Gagné.
"These stars generally have very strong magnetic fields, which make them very active," he said. This explains in part why it took nearly 15 years to detect the exoplanet.
A team of scientists have been observing a debris field around the star looking for planets using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility.
Thanks to these observations and in large part to NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists were able to observe a planetary transit occurring once every eight and a half days.
The team estimates that the planet is roughly 58-times the size of Earth.
Gagné was part of the team during his doctoral studies.
Thanks to his research and the dedicated efforts of his fellow scientists, AU Mic b was found after only a few years of observation.
Discovering planets in these systems presents challenges because very few systems like AU Mic are known.
It's actually quite rare to find a planet in this kind of solar system, making this discovery highly relevant to the scientific community.
Scientists hope that this breakthrough will help them discover even more planets in the AU Mic solar system.
NASA's video (seen below) details how the planet was discovered and sends you on a virtual adventure across the cosmos.
Researchers hope to find more surprises hidden within this solar system.
Could there be a planet with an atmosphere somewhere out there? Maybe!
Next time you're looking up at the night sky, look for the AU Mic star and wave hello to our cosmic neighbours.