Scientists are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

By Andrea Romano
May 14, 2020
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This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 4845, located over 65 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). The galaxy’s orientation clearly reveals the galaxy’s striking spiral structure: a flat and dust-mottled disc surrounding a bright galactic bulge. NGC 4845’s glowing centre hosts a gigantic version of a black hole, known as a supermassive black hole. The presence of a black hole in a distant galaxy like NGC 4845 can be inferred from its effect on the galaxy’s innermost stars; these stars experience a strong gravitational pull from the black hole and whizz around the galaxy’s centre much faster than otherwise.
ESA/Hubble & NASA and S. Smartt (Queen's University Belfast)

Scientists in New Zealand have spotted a rare glimpse at a planet that is comparable to the size and orbit of Earth within our galaxy, USA Today reported. Although this is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, you may not want to be packing your bags for life on a new planet just yet.

According to The Astronomical Journal, the planet was discovered using a “microlensing” technique, a method that can detect planet- or star-sized objects regardless of how much light they emit.

“The combined gravity of the planet and its host star caused the light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a particular way,” said study lead author Antonia Herrera-Martin, from New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, to USA Today. “We used telescopes distributed around the world to measure the light-bending effect.”

The planet has a mass somewhere in the range between Earth’s mass and that of Neptune, according to USA Today, and its orbit makes for a year that lasts around 617 days.

While this may seem promising, there is one drawback. The planet’s host star (which would give warmth and light to the planet), is only about 10 percent of our sun’s mass while also being the same approximate distance from its planet as our sun is to Earth.

"Although it’s not too much bigger than Earth, and orbiting its star at a similar distance, this planet would be very cold because its star is smaller than the sun and emits much less light," said study co-author Michael Abrow, of the University of Canterbury, to USA Today.

Abrow added that water is unlikely to exist on the planet in the form of liquid and life is not expected to exist because of the harsh conditions.

While this discovery is certainly exciting and interesting, it’s also unlikely that we will be able to see the planet again any time soon, since finding objects with the microlensing technique is extremely rare, according to USA Today.