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A New Class of 'Light' Super-Earth May Be Heavy in Rubies and Sapphires

 A New Class of 'Light' Super-Earth May Be Heavy in Rubies and Sapphires

The exoplanet 55 Cancer in a new category of super-Earth with a composition that suggests such alien planets might be rich in rubies and sapphires

Credit: Thibaut Roger

A newfound child of super-Earth alien planet might glitter with rubies and sapphires, a new study finds.

As researchers have discovered worlds around other stars, one class of these exoplanets that were popped up were the super-Earths: rocky planets that can reach up to 1

0 times the mass of our own. Much remains a mystery about super-Earths, since none are known in the solar system. Planets coalesce from protoplanetary disks or gas and dust that surround newborn stars. Temperatures vary within these disks, depending on how close or far their ingredients are to or from stars, which influences what minerals form across the disks. The scientists reasoned that this could lead to the formation of a variety of planets that differed from one another, based on composition. [Historic Photo Is 1st View of Alien World Being Born]

Now the researchers suggest they may have discovered a new class of super-Earth – one that's rich in sapphires and rubies.

"We showed that the compositional diversity of planets – super-Earths in particular – might be much larger than previously thought," lead study author Caroline Dorn, an exoplanet scientist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, told Space.com.

Scientists conducting previous research have often thought of super-Earths as rich in iron, much like Earth, these would have formed in the cooler parts of protoplanetary disks.

However, Dorn and her colleagues suggest this new type of super-Earth is loaded with calcium and aluminum, as well as minerals rich in these elements, including sapphires and rubies. These planets would have formed in the hotter parts of protoplanetary disks.

The scientists calculated that this new class of super-Earth should be 10 to 20 percent less than Earth. Moreover, they noted previous research has discovered super-Earths that match this description.

For example, Dorn and her colleagues examined the super-Earths 55 Cancer and WASP-47, which had previously seemingly light densities. One potential explanation for these low overall densities might be that they have thick atmospheres, but they are discounted by the possibility of having their stars so closely that they are likely to have evaporated away long. ago. A third previously studied planet, HD 219134 b, appears to have this composition as well.

"Given our models and the observations, there are good chances that the studied planets have very different interior compositions compared to the majority of super-Earths , "Dorn said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Dec.

Follow Charles Q. Choi on Twitter @cqchoi . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Original article on Space.com

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