Friday, September 19, 2008

a new planet

This is very exciting: astronomers at the University of Toronto have spotted a planet.
Young StarYoung star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 and its faint, planetary mass candidate companion.

University of Toronto astronomers have unveiled what is likely the first picture of a planet around a star similar to the sun.

Three scientists from astronomy and astrophysics used the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to take images of the young star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 (which lies outside the solar system at about 500 light-years from Earth) and a candidate companion of that star. They also obtained spectra to confirm the nature of the companion, which has a mass about eight times that of Jupiter and lies roughly 330 times the Earth-sun distance away from its star. (For comparison, the most distant planet in our solar system, Neptune, orbits the sun at only about 30 times the Earth-sun distance.) The parent star is similar in mass to the sun but is much younger.

"This is the first time we have directly seen a planetary mass object in a likely orbit around a star like our sun," said David Lafrenicre, a post-doctoral fellow and lead author of a paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters and also posted online. "If we confirm that this object is indeed gravitationally tied to the star, it will be a major step forward."

Actually I think I heard about this when it happened and forgot to look it up. But anyway, a planet like ours near a star like ours. Wow - it could be capable of supporting life.

Hat-tip to Geekologie.

More information and a bigger picture on Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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