Astronomers have identified a new extrasolar planet that is thought to be comprised of more than 80% iron.
Situated approximately 30 light years from Earth in orbit around the dwarf star GJ 367, the new planet was discovered by NASA\’s Transiting Exoplanets Survey Satellite (TESS) mission which looks out for the telltale dip in starlight caused by an orbiting planet moving in front of it.
With a radius around three-quarters that of the Earth, the surface conditions on this pint-sized world, which is tidally locked so that one side faces its star at all times, are undeniably hellish.
Its iron core is believed to extend 85% of the way to the surface, leaving a thin rock crust.
With surface temperatures of 1,745 Kelvin, however, it is likely that at least some of its surface is molten iron – making the chances of finding life there practically zero.
In many ways GJ 367b is a lot like the planet Mercury, albeit larger, much closer to its parent star and with a density 1.5 times greater.
“This is a unique object with a short orbital period and a high density,” said Kristine Lam of the German Aerospace Center.
“This discovery paves the way for future exoplanet scientists to find smaller and smaller planets, hopefully like something in our Solar System, or something completely different.”