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During the day, the exoplanet GJ 367b (shown here in an artist’s rendering) is so hot, the iron it holds could almost begin to melt. Credit: SPP 1992 (Patricia Klein)
Astronomers have spotted the tiniest, most metal-based planet yet — an iron-rich world that is light years away from Earth and zips around its star once every eight hours.
The planet, known as GJ 367b, is three-quarters the size of Earth, but much denser. It’s more like Mercury, in that it is made mostly of iron and is superheated by blazing radiation from its star. GJ 367b is a searing 1,500 °C during the day — nearly hot enough for its iron to begin to melt.
GJ 367b is the smallest planet beyond the Solar System for which scientists have been able to determine the composition, says Kristine Lam, an astronomer who recently moved from Technical University Berlin to the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, Germany. She and her colleagues reported the finding on 2 December in Science1.