Space sapphires and rubies: exotic new planets outside our solar system

Space sapphires and rubies: exotic new planets outside our solar system
© Thibaut Roger

An exotic class of new planets may exist outside of our solar system by researchers at the Universities of Zurich and Cambridge.

The potential new planets are thought to be super-Earths which were formed at high temperatures close to their host star. They contain high quantities of oxides, including sapphire and ruby, as well as calcium and aluminium.

Shimmering new planets

21 light years away from us in the constellation Cassiopeia, a planet is orbiting its star with a year that is only three days long. orbits its star with a year that is just three days long. It is called HD219134 b and has a mass almost five times that of Earth, making it a so-called “super-Earth”. HD219134 b is one of the three candidates that are likely to belong to a an exotic class of new planets outside our solar system.

Unlike the Earth however, it most likely does not have a massive core of iron, but is rich in calcium and aluminium.

Unlike the Earth, it most likely does not have a massive core of iron, but are rich in calcium and aluminium.

Caroline Dorn, astrophysicist at the Institute for Computational Science of the University of Zurich, said: “Perhaps it shimmers red to blue like rubies and sapphires, because these gemstones are aluminium oxides which are common on the exoplanet.”

But do they really exist?

“What is exciting is that these objects are completely different from the majority of Earth-like planets”, Dorn adds, “if they actually exist.”

The probability of the existence of these new planets is high, as the astrophysicists explain in their paper.  Dorn explains: “In our calculations we found that these planets have 10 to 20 percent lower densities than the Earth…So, we have found three candidates that belong to a new class of super-Earths with this exotic composition.”

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