Astronomers have found hints of what could be the first planet ever to be discovered outside our galaxy, the BBC reports.
Nearly 5,000 “exoplanets” – worlds orbiting stars beyond our Sun – have been found so far, but all of these have been located within the Milky Way galaxy.
The possible planet signal discovered by Nasa’s Chandra X-Ray Telescope is in the Messier 51 galaxy.
This is located some 28 light-years away from the Milky Way.
This new result is based on transits, where the passage of a planet in front of a star blocks some of the star’s light and produces a characteristic dip in brightness that can be detected by telescopes.
This general technique has already been used to find thousands of exoplanets.
But Dr Roseanne Di Stefano and colleagues searched for dips in the brightness of X-rays received from a type of object known as an X-ray bright binary.
These objects typically contain a neutron star or black hole pulling in gas from a closely orbiting companion star. The material near the neutron star or black hole becomes superheated and glows at X-ray wavelengths.
Because the region producing bright X-rays is small, a planet passing in front of it could block most or all of the X-rays, making the transit easier to spot.
The team members used this method to detect the exoplanet candidate in a binary system called M51-ULS-1.