Thursday, September 16, 2004

Mega-Jupiter Seen; Exo-Earth Found?

A team of astronomers, using the 8.2-meter telescope at European Southern Observatory in Chile, believe they may have recorded a direct image of an exoplanet, a planet orbiting another star. The parent star, 2M1207, is 230 light-years away. Previous candidates for the first image of an exoplanet have proven to be disappointments, turning out to be small stellar companions or background stars. This object is believed to be about five times the mass of Jupiter: a gas giant.

Just three weeks ago, another team at ESO La Silla announced the discovery of the lightest known exoplanet. It orbits the star mu Arae, about 50 light years away. Though it is thought to be 14 times the mass of the Earth, this size places it at the boundary between rocky planets and gas giants. It orbits the star in just 9.5 days,

"The thrill of seeing this faint source of light in real-time on the instrument display was unbelievable. Although it is surely much bigger than a terrestrial-size object, it is a strange feeling that it may indeed be the first planetary system beyond our own ever imaged."
Christophe Dumas, astronomer
so it is too close to its sun to be icy. So, this exoplanet may just be the first rocky or terrestrial planet astronomers have found. The other-world was discovered by the measurements of a sophisticated spectrograph, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), on the 3.6 m telescope at ESO La Silla.

So, we may have photographed an exoplanet, and we may have found a terrestrial planet. Now, how about an image of a terrestrial exoplanet?

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|| headland, 12:45 AM


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