Share

Exoplanet Found Orbiting Distant Sun-like Star

Miriam Kramer
Published: January 16, 2014

This artist's illustration shows one of three newly discovered planets in the star cluster Messier 67. (ESO/L. Calcada)

Scientists using a powerful telescope in Chile have found an alien planet circling a star that is nearly identical to the sun and located in a star cluster 2,500 light-years from Earth.

The discovery marks the first time that scientists have found an exoplanet circling a solar twin in a star cluster, according to European Southern Observatory officials, the group that operates the telescope instrument that made the discovery. Scientists used ESO’s HARPS telescope instrument to find the exoplanet, which is a little smaller than Jupiter and takes seven days to orbit its star. The strange world, along with two other exoplanets also found by the HARPS instrument, are located in Messier 67, a star cluster populated by about 500 stars. 

ESO scientists also created a video explanation of the sunlike-star’s alien planet, as well as the discovery of two other exoplanets that were found in the same study. While exoplanets have been found in star clusters before, this is the first time one has been found circling a sun twin in a cluster. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)]

“In the Messier 67 star cluster the stars are all about the same age and composition as the sun,” Anna Brucalassi of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, leader of the new study, said in a statement. “This makes it a perfect laboratory to study how many planets form in such a crowded environment, and whether they form mostly around more massive or less massive stars.”

Two other planets were also found orbiting stars in the cluster. By using the HARPS planet-hunting instrument on the 3.6-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, scientists were able to observe 88 stars in Messier 67 over six years to try to find planets orbiting the stars.

In all, the scientists found three planets orbiting three different stars in the cluster. Aside from the solar twin and its planet, the researchers also found another planet one-third the size of Jupiter circling a sunlike star and a planet larger than Jupiter circling a massive red giant star.

Two of the three planets are considered “hot Jupiters“ or planets that are somewhat like Jupiter in size, but orbit closer to their host stars, ESO officials said. All three of the planets are too close to their parent stars for liquid water to exist, ESO officials added.

“These new results show that planets in open star clusters are about as common as they are around isolated stars — but they are not easy to detect,” Luca Pasquini of ESO, co-author of the new study to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, said in a statement. “The new results are in contrast to earlier work that failed to find cluster planets, but agrees with some other more recent observations. We are continuing to observe this cluster to find how stars with and without planets differ in mass and chemical makeup.”

Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

Star Cluster Messier 67 Harbors Planets | Fly-Through Animation

Alien Planet Quiz: Are You an Exoplanet Expert?

Exploring the Southern Sky - ESO at 50 | Video Show

10 Space Discoveries by the European Southern Observatory

Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

MORE: Nine Incredible Facts About Exoplanets

There are currently 919 confirmed plants orbiting other stars, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, with an additional 3,602 planet candidates waiting to be confirmed. (A few different databases track exoplanets, and by some of those, the count has surpassed 1,000.) (NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)


Featured Blogs

Top 10 Weather Videos of 2014

By Dr. Jeff Masters
December 26, 2014

The year 2014 had many spectacular extreme weather events caught on video; the most remarkable were of flash flooding in Serbia and a tornado in Russia. Two artistic videos that were favorites of mine included beautiful time-lapse pieces set to music taken of monsoon thunderstorms in Arizona and the sunset/aurora on top of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. Here, then, are my choices for 2014's top 10 weather videos:

November 2014 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By Christopher C. Burt
December 18, 2014

November was globally the 7th warmest such on record according to NOAA and 8th according to NASA (see Jeff Master’s blog for more about this). It was a cold month in the U.S. with some phenomenal lake-effect snowstorms. A powerful storm, dubbed a ‘Medicane’ formed in the Mediterranean Sea. Deadly floods occurred in Morocco, Italy, and Switzerland. It was the warmest November on record for Australia, Italy, Austria and much of Southeast Asia.Below are some of the month’s highlights.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.