Astronomers dis­cover ‘young Jupiter’

The China Post - - LIFE -

Astronomers have dis­cov­ered a planet 100 light years away that looks a lot like Jupiter once did and may of­fer new in­sights on how plan­ets are formed, re­searchers said Thurs­day.

Known as 51 Eri­dani b, it is the first ex­o­planet de­tected by a new in­stru­ment called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), ac­cord­ing to the re­port in the jour­nal Science.

It is “the first young planet that prob­a­bly looks like Jupiter did bil­lions of years ago, mak­ing it cur­rently our most im­por­tant cor­ner-piece of the planet for­ma­tion jig­saw puz­zle,” said Travis Bar­man, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of plan­e­tary sciences at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona.

The star it cir­cles, 51 Eri­dani, is just 20 mil­lion years old — fairly young con­sid­er­ing the sun is about 4.5 bil­lion years old.

En­shrouded in meth­ane, the planet is about twice the mass of Jupiter — the largest planet in our so­lar sys­tem — and con­tains the strong­est meth­ane sig­na­ture ever de­tected in the at­mos­phere of an alien planet.

Its tem­per­a­ture is es­ti­mated to be about 427 de­grees Cel­sius, hot enough to melt lead.

“This is ex­actly the kind of planet we en­vi­sioned dis­cov­er­ing when we de­signed GPI,” said James Graham, a Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley pro­fes­sor of as­tron­omy and the GPI pro­ject sci­en­tist.

“We wanted to find plan­ets when they’re young so we can fig­ure out the for­ma­tion process.”

The Gemini Planet Imager was de­signed to dis­cover faint, young plan­ets or­bit­ing bright stars.

The in­stru­ment is about the size of a small car and is mounted on the eight- me­ter Gemini South te­le­scope in Chile. It be­gan op­er­at­ing in De­cem­ber 2014.

A sep­a­rate NASA mis­sion known as the Ke­pler space te­le­scope searches for plan­ets by study­ing the dim in starlight that can be glimpsed when a planet passes in front of a star.

Ke­pler’s main goal is to find Earth-like plan­ets that might be able to sup­port life.

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