NASA / NASA via Getty Images
We are perhaps one step closer to understanding the unknown parts of our universe.
Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory telescope have detected for the first time in history what appears to be a planet in a galaxy beyond the Milky Way, NASA said Monday.
The unnamed exoplanet – the name of a planet that exists in a solar system outside of our own – is believed to exist in galaxy M51, or “Whirlpool,” about 28 million light years from Earth, said the NASA.
The possible planet is as big as Saturn
Not much is known about the potential planet, but it is believed to be roughly the same size as Saturn and to orbit its version of the sun about twice the distance from Saturn to our sun, according to scientists.
The researchers spotted signs of the exoplanet by observing what in astronomy is called a transit – a transit is when a planet passes in front of a star and blocks the star’s light. Looking through advanced telescopes, astronomers were able to observe a “characteristic hollow” that accompanies transit, according to NASA.
This method is among those that have been used to discover many confirmed and potential planets outside of our solar system. Since the 1990s, astronomers have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets, according to NASA. But all of these have been found in our Milky Way galaxy.
It could be decades before scientists can confirm the discovery
As exciting as the idea of other planets existing outside of our galaxy is, NASA said more research is needed to confirm the existence of the exoplanet. And that’s no small feat: the unnamed planet is said to have such a large orbital distance that it wouldn’t pass its neutron star or black hole for around 70 years, the statement said.
Still, the potential discovery could be interpreted as a beacon of hope for those looking for signs of planets beyond our own galaxy.
“We are trying to open a whole new arena to find other worlds by looking for candidate planets at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that allows them to be discovered in other galaxies”, Rosanne Di Stefano, physicist at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a NASA announcement.