Beautifully aligning astronomy and mathematics, scientists at MIT and elsewhere have discovered “pi planet” – a medium-sized planet that orbits its star every 3.14 days, in an orbit reminiscent of the universal constant of mathematics.
The researchers found signs of the planet in data taken by NASA’sK2 Space Kepler Space Telescope mission in 2017. By disrupting the system earlier this year with SPECULOOS, a network of ground-based telescopes, the team confirmed that the signals were a planet was orbiting its star. And in fact, the planet still seems to be orbiting its star today, with a period like pi, every 3.14 days.
“The planet moves like clockwork,” says Prajwal Niraula, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), who is the lead author of a paper published today in the Astronomical Journal, entitled: “π Earth : Planet Earth 3.14 days from K2’s Kitchen Served Warm by the SPECULOOS Team. ”
“Everyone needs a little fun these days,” says co-author Julien de Wit, under the paper ‘s title and the discovery of the planet pi itself.
Extraction of the planet
The new planet is labeled K2-315b; this is the 315th planetary system found in K2 data – one shy system for an even more serendipitous place on the list.
The researchers estimate that the radius of K2-315b and the radius of the Earth have a radius of 0.95, making it just about the size of the Earth. It orbits a cool, low-mass star that is about one-fifth the size of the sun. The planet orbits its star every 3.14 days, flowering 81 kilometers per second, or about 181,000 miles per hour.
Although its mass has not yet been determined, scientists suspect that K2-315b is terrestrial, similar to Earth. But the planet pi is probably not habitable, because its tight orbit brings the planet close enough to its star to heat its surface up to 450 kelp, or about 350 degrees Fahrenheit – perfect, as it turns out, for an actual pie baking.
“This would be too hot to be habitable in the common sense of the sentence,” says Niraula, who adds that the excitement around this particular planet, rather than its connections to the mathematical constant pi, could be a promising candidate studying the characteristics of his atmosphere.
“We now know that we can mine planets and extract archival data, and hopefully there will be no planets left behind, especially these important high-impact ones,” says de Wit, who is an assistant professor at EAPS, and a member of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
MIT co-authors Niraula and de Wit include Benjamin Rackham and Artem Burdanov, along with a team of international collaborators.
“There will be more interesting planets in the future, just in time for JWST, a telescope designed to probe the atmosphere of these alien worlds,” says Niraula. “With better algorithms, hopefully, one day, we can look for smaller planets, even as small as Mars.”