September 15, 2008

Scientists Spot Planet In Apparent Orbit Around Star

A Canadian team of scientists have made an unprecedented discovery: an image of a planet outside of Earth's Solar System which appears to be circling a star like the sun.

The newly discovered planet lies about 500 light-years from Earth and has a mass of about eight times that of Jupiter. It is the first discovered to be orbiting a star rather than brown dwarfs, which are dim.

The star, appears to be similar to our Sun, but may be somewhat younger, experts said.  Distance between the star and the planet is about 330 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Three astronomers from the University of Toronto used the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to take images of the young star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 and the planetary candidate.

"This is the first time we have directly seen a planetary mass object in a likely orbit around a star like our Sun," said lead author David Lafreniere.

"If we confirm that this object is indeed gravitationally tied to the star, it will be a major step forward."

Now scientists must back up their hypothesis that the new planet is in fact circling the star.

Dr Matt Burleigh, from the University of Leicester, UK, commented: "This is a very good candidate for a first picture of a planet orbiting a normal star.

"Now the team needs to make more observations to hopefully confirm that the two are moving together through space."

The astronomers used adaptive optics technology to reduce the distortions to the image caused by turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere.

The near-infrared images and spectra of the planetary candidate indicate that it is too cool to be a star or a brown dwarf - a failed star.

It may take about two years to confirm that the star and its probable planet are moving through space together.


Image Caption: Young star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 and its faint, planetary mass candidate companion. Blue, green, and red represent images taken in J, H, and Ks, with intensities scaled such that they are proportional to the photon rates inferred from the 2MASS magnitudes of the primary.


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