Using data from a NASA X-ray laboratory in space, Xinyu Dai, an astrophysicist and professor at the University of Oklahoma, detected, a population of planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy for the very first time.
The mass of the planets range in size from Earth’s moon to the massive Jupiter, our solar system’s biggest planet.
There are few methods to determine the existence of distant planets. They are so far away that no telescope can observe them, Dai told The Washington Post. So Dai and his postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras relied on a scientific principle to make the discovery: Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Einstein’s theory suggests light bends when tugged by the force of gravity. In this case, the light is coming from a quasar, the nucleus of a galaxy with a swirling black hole, which emits powerful radiation in the distance.
Between that quasar and the space-based laboratory is the galaxy of newly discovered planets. The gravitational force of the galaxy bends the light heading toward the Milky Way, illuminating the galaxy in an effect called microlensing. In that way, the galaxy acts as a magnifying glass of sorts, bringing a previously unseen celestial body into X-ray view.
“Microlensing is probably the only way,” Dai said.
The photo that emerged is a modest image of the extraordinary find that Dai said will advance the study of planetary science. The central elliptical object is the galaxy where the planets reside. The linked white dots at the top and solo white mark at the bottom are the lensed images of active radiation pulsating from a black hole.
Dai estimated the distant galaxies contains 2,000 planets for every star. That means trillions of planets likely reside there, he said, consistent with the ratio found in free floating planets in the Milky Way that itself contains billions of planets.
That might make this discovery all the more remarkable: the fact that it might not have happened at all. Dai was simply looking to study the environment in and around a black hole.Hey may have found something more.
“It was serendipity,” he said.