CBS Local — For the first time in history, astronomers have discovered thousands of new planets “in a galaxy far, far away.”
The intergalactic achievement marks the first time astronomers have seen a planet outside of our own galaxy. Using a new method of stargazing, called gravitational microlensing, scientists were able to find as many as 2,000 distant worlds in a galaxy 3.8 billion light-years away.
“Previously, planets have been detected only in the Milky Way galaxy. Here, we show that quasar microlensing provides a means to probe extragalactic planets in the lens galaxy,” scientists wrote in a Feb. 2 release in The Astrophysical Journal.
Gravitational microlensing can be simply explained as a method scientists use to indirectly view objects by focusing on a distant gravitational force (like a black hole or quasar) and then measuring the bending of light as objects (like planets and stars) pass in between Earth and the target.
For this discovery, Oklahoma University astronomers Xinyu Dai and Eduardo Guerras pointed their telescopes at a quasar RX J1131-1231 which is six billion light-years away. According to NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, the quasar revealed peculiar energy shifts and light patterns that could only be from planets passing in front of the black hole-powered phenomenon. “This is an example of how powerful the techniques of analysis of extragalactic microlensing can be” Guerras said, via Science Alert.
The Oklahoma University team says that the light bending experiment is only way Earth currently has to peek in on our neighboring galaxies. “There is not the slightest chance of observing these planets directly, not even with the best telescope one can imagine in a science fiction scenario,” Guerras admitted. The astronomer added that while humans can’t actually see planets in another galaxy, revealing their existence was “very cool science.”