Scientists have uncovered a brand new exoplanet. It looks like it’s the younger distant brother of Jupiter. And better yet, that’s not even the most amazing part of this discovery! This exoplanet may hold long sought-after answers to questions as old as the universe – literally.
It’s located about 100 light years away from the Earth. Although it may seem like quite a lot, scientists assure us that it is in fact very close compared to other objects. The journal Science on Thursday published a study reporting on this newly found wonder. It’s called 52 Eri b and unlike most exoplanets, it was discovered by the Gemini Planet Imager.
If you’ve been closely following the discoveries of new planets, you will know that the star finding superstar at this moment is the Kepler space telescope. So what’s Gemini got that makes it so special compared to Kepler?
The two telescopes have different ways of looking at space. Kepler finds planets by fixing its eye on their stars and waiting for the orbiting objects to pass between the telescope and the star. Although very efficient, as we’ve seen quite a lot of exciting discoveries coming from Kepler, there are also some limitations when it comes to practicality.
Rahul I. Patel, an Indian-American PhD student, says that Kepler would’ve had great difficulties in finding this newest little brother of Jupiter. To find a planet as close to its star as Earth to the Sun, Kepler needs about three years (depending on the orbit of said planet) to observe three passes of the planet so that it knows for certain that it saw what it thinks it saw.
In a totally different scenario, Gemeni has the upper hand in this space discovery battle. Instead of looking for light from the stars, it looks directly for the light bouncing off the planets’ atmospheres. The GPI was designed specifically to find planets like 52 Eri b – that is “far out” planets that are relatively small, but have a large orbit.
To give insight into what their research is actually doing, Patel presented an amusing metaphor. He challenges us to imagine trying to find a firefly very close to an extremely powerful flood lamp. Tricky? Yes. Now imagine that you are a mile away from the lamp, and have to look through a glass of water. That is how the Gemini scientists do.
Being very young, this newest exoplanet could present extremely interesting details about the formation of our own Jupiter, and subsequently of our own solar system.
Image source: gemini.edu