New planet spotted after discovery of Neptune

December 10th, 2008 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 10 (IANS) In 2006, astronomer Alice Quillen predicted a planet of a specific size and orbit must lie within the dust of a nearby star.That planet has now been photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, making it only the second planet ever imaged after an accurate prediction. The only other planet seen after an accurate prediction was Neptune, more than 160 years ago.

“It’s remarkable,” said Eugene Chiang, associate professor of astronomy at the University of California Berkeley (UC-B), and part of the team that imaged the new planet.

“Alice saw the way the inner edge of the dust ring cut off sharply and recognised that a planet likely orbited just inside. The orbit we found was amazingly close to Alice’s prediction.”

“This is a terrific achievement that showcases Alice’s many talents,” said Nick Bigelow, who chairs the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester.

“Just think, it has been over 160 years since the presence of a planet has been inferred and so quickly imaged, and that was a planet orbiting our own Sun, not a star hundreds of trillions of miles away. Extraordinary!”

On Nov 13, Chiang and his colleagues announced they had imaged a planet around Fomalhaut, a bright, nearby star surrounded by a ring of dust.

One of the planets matches the planet Quillen predicted in 2006. Along with three other planets imaged concurrently by another team, this is the first planet outside of our solar system to be directly imaged, said a UC-B release.

Neptune, imaged in 1846, was inferred by its effect on the orbit of Uranus three years earlier, and marked the first time a planet was predicted before it was actually seen.

In 2004, astronomers at the University of Washington predicted the existence of a planet around a sun-like star 212 light years away.

The planet was confirmed in 2007 using a technique called radial velocity, but its image has not been resolved the way the Fomalhaut planet’s has.

Quillen is now one of the world’s experts in predicting planet size and position from the features of a star’s dust ring.

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