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Astronomers Find a Iron Rich Planet

An iron-rich planet spotted in a nearby solar system could help scientists understand the mystery of how the planet Mercury formed in our own neighborhood. The newly-described planet is about 31 light years away, according to a report in the journal Science.Astronomers haven’t seen it directly, but they’ve been able to estimate its size and mass by watching its effects on the star that it orbits. It appears that this planet is largely made of iron.

Kristine Lam, a researcher at the Institute of Planetary Research in the German Aerospace Center in Berlin said that from our measurements, we find that this exoplanet is smaller and less massive than the Earth.Astronomers said that they could be similar to Mercury, which is composed mostly of iron. The planet, known as “GJ 367 b,” orbits so close to its red dwarf star that it only takes about eight Earth hours for it to whiz all the way around.

Temperatures on the planet’s surface could reach a scorching 1500 degrees Celsius, or about 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. While scientists have found nearly 5,000 planets orbiting distant stars in recent years, he says, it’s rare to find ones that orbit their stars in less than one Earth day. The ones that do almost always seem to be small and terrestrial. Some people like to refer to them as hot Earths, says Winn, who finds these planets appealingly weird.

Mercury underwent a giant collision early in its history that vaporized its outer layer, leaving the planet as basically a giant iron core without much enveloping rock. But no one can be sure that such an event ever happened, and finding other close-in planets that are also iron-rich could make that story seem less plausible.

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