NASA says a group of scientists may have discovered signs of a new planet beyond the Milky Way. The potential discovery may be the first planet ever found in another galaxy.
The potential planet, which is unnamed and about the size of Saturn, was spotted in the spiral galaxy Messier 51, or what is known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, about 28 million light-years away from Earth, according to NASA.
Scientists made the discovery with a NASA telescope, called the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and by using a new technique to search for planets known as the X-ray transit method. Exoplanets, which NASA defines as planets outside our solar system, are difficult for astronomers to detect.
But with the new method, scientists were able to detect when an object moves across a star and blocks its X-rays. The duration and intensity of the object’s motion can tell scientists more about the size and orbit of the potential planet.
Astronomers published their findings Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
“We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planetary candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that allows them to be detected in other galaxies,” said Rosanne Di Stefano, an astrophysicist at Harvard. -Smithsonian Center, which led the study.
The discovery is intriguing, but scientists stressed that more data is needed to confirm the planet’s existence, which could take decades. NASA said the size of the possible planet’s orbit is so large that it “would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years.”
“Unfortunately, to confirm that we see a planet, we will probably have to wait decades to see another transit,” said Nia Imara, a co-author of the study and astrophysicist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “And because of the uncertainty of how long it will take to circle, we would not know exactly when to look.”