Newly discovered planet may have water

November 14th, 2007 - 8:36 am ICT by admin  
Easily visible with binoculars, 55 Cancri is located 41 light-years away in the constellation Cancer and has nearly the same mass and age as our sun.

“This is the first quintuple-planet system,” said Debra Fischer, an astronomer at San Francisco State University. “This system has a dominant gas giant planet in an orbit similar to our Jupiter. Like the planets orbiting our sun, most of these planets reside in nearly circular orbits,” she added.

Researchers discovered the fifth planet using the Doppler technique, in which a planet’s gravitational tug is detected by the wobble it produces in the parent star. The finding was made after careful observation of 2,000 nearby stars with the Shane telescope at Lick Observatory located on Mt. Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. More than 320 velocity measurements were required to disentangle signals from each of the planets.

Weighing about 45 times the mass of Earth, the newly discovered planet is the fourth from 55 Cancri and completes one orbit every 260 days.

According to astronomers, the new planet may be similar to Saturn in its composition and appearance. Its location places the planet in the “habitable zone,” a band around the star where the temperature would permit liquid water to pool on solid surfaces.

“It is amazing to see our ability to detect extrasolar planets growing,” said Alan Stern, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “We are finding solar systems with a richness of planets and a variety of planetary types comparable to our own,” he added.

“The gas-giant planets in our solar system all have large moons,” said Debra Fischer, an astronomer at San Francisco State University. “If there is a moon orbiting this new, massive planet, it might have pools of liquid water on a rocky surface.”

“This work marks an exciting next step in the search for worlds like our own,” said Michael Briley, an astronomer at the National Science Foundation. “To go from the first detections of planets around sun-like stars to finding a full-fledged solar system with a planet in a habitable zone in just 12 years is an amazing accomplishment,” he added.

“Finding five extrasolar planets orbiting a star is only one small step. Earth-like planets are the next destination,” said Marcy, a researcher on the subject. (ANI)

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