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.
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.