On K2-315b, every day is Pi Day

Key takeaways

  • A newly discovered planet, K2-315b, completes its orbit in just 3.14 days, matching the mathematical constant Pi.
  • K2-315b, about the same size as Earth, was found orbiting a cool, small star using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes.
  • With temperatures over 350 degrees Fahrenheit, K2-315b is too hot for life as we know it but is an ideal temperature for baking pie.
  • Despite its high temperatures, K2-315b is a great candidate for studying the atmospheres of rocky planets like Earth.
  • The find shows how scientists can discover important planets using old telescope data, ensuring no significant finds are missed.

Space telescopes search the universe for exoplanets, discovering hundreds of weird and exotic worlds. Every now and again, one of these planets impresses us with its distinct characteristics.

In yet another cosmic surprise, scientists discovered a planet approximately the size of Earth that orbits its home star in just 3.14 days – the same number as the mathematical constant Pi.

Astronomers discovered evidence of a probable planet circling a cold, tiny star while reviewing old data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope’s K2 mission from 2017. The scientists focused on the probable planet using a network of ground-based telescopes in Chile’s Atacama Desert known as The Search for Habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cool Stars, or SPECULOOS. The measurements verified that the signals were in fact from an Earth-sized planet circling an extremely cold dwarf star.

The planet, known as K2-315b, has a radius of 0.95 times that of Earth and circles a low-mass star that is around one-fifth the size of the Sun.

K2-315b travels around its orbit, completing one full circuit about its star in only 3.14 days, at a speed of approximately 181,000 miles per hour.

“The planet moves like clockwork,” Prajwal Niraula, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and the paper’s primary author, said in a statement.

Astronomers couldn’t help but notice a connection between the planet’s orbital period and Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter that occurs in many physics and mathematics calculations. Of course, Pi is best approximated at 3.14159, but there’s no need to be overly exact.

“Everyone needs a bit of fun these days,” said Julien de Wit, an assistant professor at EAPS and a member of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, as well as the study’s co-author.

Unfortunately, there will probably be no Pi planet aliens. Astronomers believe K2-315b is not habitable because it orbits so close to its host star. According to the experts, temperatures on the Earth-sized planet are projected to exceed 350 degrees Fahrenheit, which happens to be the ideal temperature for baking pie.

“This would be too hot to be habitable in the common understanding of the phrase,” Niraula stated.

But what the Pi planet lacks in habitability, it compensates for by serving as a trial ground for atmospheric conditions.

Astronomers think the planet has a rocky core comparable to that of Earth. That makes it an excellent option for studying the atmospheres of other worlds. Such knowledge is useful when astronomers look for habitable conditions on distant planets.

“We now know we can mine and extract planets from archival data, and hopefully there will be no planets left behind, especially these really important ones that have a high impact,” de Wit stated.

The discovery is detailed in a study published in The Astronomical Journal.

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