India’s Top Space Agency Discovers an EPIC Planet 600 Light Years Away


A team from the Physical Research Laboratory (a National Research Institute for space and allied sciences) in Ahmedabad has found for the first time a distant planet roughly 6 times bigger than the Earth and over 600 light years away, revolving around a Sun-like star. It is one of the most epic discoveries made by ISRO and christened the planet EPIC 211945201. The planet has a mass that is 27 times that of Earth which goes around the star in about 19.5 days.

India’s first telescope, specifically designed to make infrared observations, PRL Advance Radial-Velocity Abu-Sky Search (PARAS), stumbled upon the exoplanet after NASA’s K2, a space observatory, picked up an anomaly in the brightness of one of the stars on its radar. With this discovery, India has joined a select league of countries which has discovered planets around stars.

As this new planet is very close to the hot star, the surface temperature of it was found to be around 600 degrees Celsius. When compared to Earth, the new planet is 7 times nearer to the sun that might make uninhabitable. It has a mass that is 27 times that of Earth which goes around the star in about 19.5 days. The measurements such as mass, surface temperature and atmospheric condition were not solely based on light, instead, the telescope picks up the entire electromagnetic spectrum so that there’s a lot of data to analyze.

The target was observed for about 1.5 years by the PRL scientists with the spectrograph to probe the nature of the system, made calculations that suggested that the heavy elements like ice, silicates and iron content make 60%-70% of the total mass. This detection was important as it adds to a sparse catalogue of confirmed exoplanets with masses between 10 and 70 M Earth and radii between 4 and 8 R Earth, whose masses and radii are measured to a precision of 50% or better.

Though unique in its own way, this ‘epic’ planet is one of 22 other confirmed exoplanet systems with the same dimensions. Furthermore, it’s one of the billions that’s currently uninhabited. Nonetheless, it could hold the key towards understanding how planetary systems are formed. 

The official statement from the ISRO stated that “This is the first of its kind spectrograph in the country, which can measure the mass of a planet going around a star. Very few such spectrographs exist around the world (mostly in the USA and in Europe) that can do such precise measurements.

The research work will appear in the June issue of the Astronomical Journal owned by the American Astronomical Society.