Astronomers find 'home from home' - 90 light years away!


Astronomers looking for planetary systems that resemble our own solar system have found the most similar formation so far. British astronomers, working with Australian and American colleagues, have discovered a planet like Jupiter in orbit round a nearby star that is very like our own Sun. Among the hundred found so far, this system is the one most similar to our Solar System. The planet's orbit is like that of Jupiter in our own Solar System, especially as it is nearly circular and there are no bigger planets closer in to its star.

The image shows an impression by David A. Hardy of the possible scene from a moon orbiting the extra-solar planet in orbit around the star HD70642.

The image shows an impression by David A. Hardy (c PPARC) of the possible scene from a moon orbiting the extra-solar planet in orbit around the star HD70642. The planet has a mass about twice that of Jupiter and orbits the star in around six years, with a nearly circular orbit at more than three times the Earth-Sun distance. The star HD70642 is a 7th magnitude star in the southern constellation Puppis, and has properties very similar to that of our Sun. The similarity of the appearance of the extra- solar planet to that of Jupiter arises because it has a similar mass. The possible existence of the moons been inferred from our knowledge of the planets in our own Solar System and from theories of planetary formation, they have not actually been detected.

Photo credit: David A. Hardy, astroart.org
Copyright (c) Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council

"This planet is going round in a nearly circular orbit three-fifths the size of our own Jupiter. This is the closest we have yet got to a real Solar System-like planet, and advances our search for systems that are even more like our own," said UK team leader Hugh Jones of Liverpool John Moores University.

The planet was discovered using the 3.9-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope [AAT] in New South Wales, Australia. The discovery, which is part of a large search for solar systems that resemble our own, will be announced today (Thursday, July 3rd 2003) by Hugh Jones (Liverpool John Moores University) at a conference on "Extrasolar Planets: Today and Tomorrow" in Paris, France.

"It is the exquisite precision of our measurements that lets us search for these Jupiters - they are harder to find than the more exotic planets found so far. Perhaps most stars will be shown to have planets like our own Solar System", said Dr Alan Penny, from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The new planet, which has a mass about twice that of Jupiter, circles its star (HD70642) about every six years. HD70642 can be found in the constellation Puppis and is about 90 light years away from Earth. The planet is 3.3 times further from its star as the Earth is from the Sun (about halfway between Mars and Jupiter if it were in our own system).

The long-term goal of this programme is the detection of true analogues to the Solar System: planetary systems with giant planets in long circular orbits and small rocky planets on shorter circular orbits. This discovery of a -Jupiter- like gas giant planet around a nearby star is a step toward this goal. The discovery of other such planets and planetary satellites within the next decade will help astronomers assess the Solar System's place in the galaxy and whether planetary systems like our own are common or rare.

Prior to the discovery of extrasolar planets, planetary systems were generally predicted to be similar to the Solar System - giant planets orbiting beyond 4 Earth-Sun distances in circular orbits, and terrestrial mass planets in inner orbits. The danger of using theoretical ideas to extrapolate from just one example - our own Solar System - has been shown by the extrasolar planetary systems now known to exist which have very different properties. Planetary systems are much more diverse than ever imagined.

However these new planets have only been found around one-tenth of stars where they were looked for. It is possible that the harder-to-find very Solar System-like planets do exist around most stars.

The vast majority of the presently known extrasolar planets lie in elliptical orbits, which would preclude the existence of habitable terrestrial planets. Previously, the only gas giant found to orbit beyond 3 Earth-Sun distances in a near circular orbit was the outer planet of the 47 Ursa Majoris system - a system which also includes an inner gas giant at 2 Earth-Sun distances (unlike the Solar System). This discovery of a 3.3 Earth-Sun distance planet in a near circular orbit around a Sun-like star bears the closest likeness to our Solar System found to date and demonstrates our searches are precise enough to find Jupiter- like planets in Jupiter-like orbit.

To find evidence of planets, the astronomers use a high- precision technique developed by Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institute of Washington and Geoff Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley to measure how much a star "wobbles" in space as it is affected by a planet's gravity. As an unseen planet orbits a distant star, the gravitational pull causes the star to move back and forth in space. That wobble can be detected by the 'Doppler shifting' it causes in the star's light. This discovery demonstrates that the long term precision of the team's technique is 3 metres per second (7mph) making the Anglo-Australian Planet Search at least as precise as any of the many planet search projects underway.

For more information please contact:

UK

Dr Hugh Jones
Liverpool John Moores University
Mobile: +44 (0) 7956 945276 (will be available during the conference on this number)
Tel: +44 (0) 151 231 2909 (From Friday onwards)
Email: hraj@astro.livjm.ac.uk
Homepage: http://www.astro.livjm.ac.uk/~hraj

Dr Alan Penny
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: +44 (0) 1235 445675
Mobile: +44 (0) 7952-244-350
Email: alan.penny@rl.ac.uk
Homepage: http://ast.star.rl.ac.uk/penny

Julia Maddock
PPARC Press Office
Tel: +44 (0) 1793 442094
Email: Julia.Maddock@pparc.ac.uk

AUSTRALIA

Dr Chris Tinney
Anglo Australian Observatory
Tel: +61 2 9372 4849
Mobile: +61 0416 092 117
Email: cgt@aaoepp.aao.gov.au

Dr Brad Carter
University of Southern Queensland
Mobile +61 0401 337 319
Email: carterb@usq.edu.au

Helen Sim
Communications Manager, CSIRO
Tel: +61 2 9372 4251
Email: hsim@atnf.csiro.au

USA

Carnegie Institution of Washington
Dr R. Paul Butler and Dr C. McCarthy
Tel: +1 202 478 8866
Email: paul@dtm.ciw.edu / chris@dtm.ciw.edu

Dr Geoff Marcy and Dr Debra Fischer
University of California, Berkeley
Tel: +1 510 642 1952 / 643 8973
Email: gmarcy@etoile.berkeley.edu / fischer@astro.berkeley.edu

Josh Chamot
Media Officer, National Science Foundation
Tel +1 703 292 7730
email: jchamot@nsf.gov

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, CERN, the European Southern Observatory and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme provides funding to both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public understanding of its areas of science.

Related Links:

  • Images are available to download here
  • The Anglo-Australian Planet Search Home Page
  • Exoplanets Home Page
  • The Extra-solar Planets Encyclopaedia

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