Astronomers discover first possible planet outside the Milky Way

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Astronomers have indirectly observed tons of planets outside of our solar system, aka exoplanets, in the past. Including terrestrial ones that seem very habitable, those that orbit binary stars like Tatooine does, and those that ooze lava. Now, in all likelihood, we can add a planet outside of our Milky Way galaxy to the IRL sci-fi worlds list for the very first time. That means yes, this is our first glimpse of a planet from a galaxy far, far away.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

Astronomers, who used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make their discovery, explained how they identified the possible exoplanet from another galaxy in an article published in the journal Nature astronomy. Astronomers have found evidence for the exoplanet in Messier 51, or M51; a spiral-shaped “Whirlpool” galaxy located about 28 million light years from Earth. (For reference, the galaxy closest to us is Canis Major, which is 25,000 light years from the Sun.)

As the video below explains, astronomers identified the planet through the gradation of x-ray light from M51-ULS-1. M51-ULS-1 is an X-ray binary system, which means it contains a massive star orbiting a neutron star or black hole.

In essence, astronomers have observed a temporary drop in x-ray light from the M51-ULS-1 neutron star (or superheated matter surrounding a black hole, it’s still unclear), which they still don’t know. can attribute to Something temporarily blocking its source. Astronomers call this a “transit event” and it happens when a celestial body passes directly between a larger body and an observer. This is also how astronomers were able to identify other exoplanets.

If the object that attenuated the x-ray light is indeed a planet, astronomers estimate it to be the size of Saturn. Astronomers also say the data they have collected so far is “well suited” to an explanation of planetary transit. They also say they may have ruled out other explanations. Including the idea that clouds of gas or dust pass between Earth and M51-ULS-1, causing obscuration.

A visualization of an exoplanet outside of our Milky Way galaxy, orbiting a neutron star.

NASA / CXC / M. Weiss, et al.

Unfortunately, due to the orbit of the object in transit, we will have to wait 70 years to confirm that it is an exoplanet. The good news, however, is that we may have some intergalactic travel at this point. Obviously that sounds ridiculous, but it’s kind of the norm in life now, isn’t it? At least on this planet, anyway.


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