Scientists spot planet-like object orbiting sun-like star

December 4th, 2009 - 4:00 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, December 4 (ANI): An international team of scientists has made the first direct observation of a planet-like object orbiting a star similar to the Sun.

The finding marks the first discovery made with the world’s newest planet-hunting instrument on the Hawaii-based Subaru Telescope and is the first fruit of a novel research collaboration announced by the University in January.

The object, known as GJ 758 B, could be either a large planet or a “failed star,” also known as a brown dwarf.

The faint companion to the Sun-like star GJ 758 is estimated to be 10 to 40 times as massive as Jupiter and is a “near neighbor” in our Milky Way galaxy, hovering a mere 300 trillion miles from Earth.

“It’s a groundbreaking find because one of the current goals of astronomy is to directly detect planet-like objects around stars like our Sun,” said Michael McElwain, a postdoctoral research fellow in Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences who was part of the team that made the discovery.

“It is also an important verification that the system - the telescope and its instruments - is working well,” he added.

Images of the object were taken in May and August during early test runs of the new observation equipment.

“This challenging but beautiful detection of a very low mass companion to a Sun-like star reminds us again how little we truly know about the census of gas giant planets and brown dwarfs around nearby stars,” said Alan Boss, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C..

“Observations like this will enable theorists to begin to make sense of how this hitherto unseen population of bodies was able to form and evolve,” he added.

The planet-like object is currently at least 29 times as far from its star as the Earth is from the Sun, approximately as far as Neptune is from the Sun.

However, further observations will be required to determine the actual size and shape of its orbit.

At a temperature of only 600 F, the object is relatively “cold” for a body of its size. It is the coldest companion to a Sun-like star ever recorded in an image.

The fact that such a large planet-like object appears to orbit at this location defies traditional thinking on planet formation.

It is thought most larger planets are formed either closer to or farther from stars, but not in the location where GJ 758 is now.

Discoveries such as this one could help theorists refine their ideas. (ANI)

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