Astronomers discover Jupiter-like planet orbiting one of the smallest stars known

May 29th, 2009 - 2:40 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 29 (ANI): A long-proposed tool for hunting planets has finally discovered a Jupiter-like planet orbiting one of the smallest stars known.

The technique, called astrometry, was first attempted 50 years ago to search for planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets.

It involves measuring the precise motions of a star on the sky as an unseen planet tugs the star back and forth.

But, the method requires very precise measurements over long periods of time, and until now, has failed to turn up any exoplanets.

A team of two astronomers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, has, for the past 12 years, been mounting an astrometry instrument to a telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego.

After careful, intermittent observations of 30 stars, the team has identified a new exoplanet around one of them - the first ever to be discovered around a star using astrometry.

“This method is optimal for finding solar-system configurations like ours that might harbor other Earths,” said astronomer Steven Pravdo of JPL.

“We found a Jupiter-like planet at around the same relative place as our Jupiter, only around a much smaller star. It’s possible this star also has inner rocky planets,” he added.

“Since more than seven out of 10 stars are small like this one, this could mean planets are more common than we thought,” he further added.

The finding confirms that astrometry could be a powerful planet-hunting technique for both ground- and space-based telescopes.

The newfound exoplanet, called VB 10b, is about 20 light-years away in the constellation Aquila. It is a gas giant, with a mass six times that of Jupiter’s, and an orbit far enough away from its star to be labeled a “cold Jupiter” similar to our own.

In reality, the planet’s own internal heat would give it an Earth-like temperature.

The planet’s star, called VB 10, is tiny. It is what’s known as an M-dwarf and is only one-twelfth the mass of our Sun, just barely big enough to fuse atoms at its core and shine with starlight.

For years, VB 10 was the smallest star known. Now, it has a new title: the smallest star known to host a planet.

In fact, though the star is more massive than the newfound planet, the two bodies would have a similar girth.

Because the star is so small, its planetary system would be a miniature, scaled-down version of our own. (ANI)

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