Astronomers discover Jupiter's twin orbiting a distant Sun-like star
A team of internationalastronomers has discovered a gas giant orbiting a distant star withcharacteristics remarkably similar to those of our own Jovian planet,Jupiter. The significance of the discovery is that the gas giant wasfound to orbit roughly the same distance from its host star HIP11915, as Jupiter does from the Sun. This positioning may haveprofound implications for creating conditions favorable to thedevelopment of a habitable Earth-like planet in HIP 11915's innersolar system.
Current exoplanethunting techniques are only really useful for discovering very largeexoplanets that are in close proximity to their parent star. We knowbased on our own solar system that this composition is not conduciveto creating the ideal environment for life. It is currently believedthat to create a habitable planet, a solar system must have rockyplanets such as Earth and Venus in the inner regions, withJupiter-like gas giants orbiting further out.
The existence of lifein our solar system has made it a template in the hunt forextraterrestrial life, and the existence of a gas giant beyond theorbit of Earth may have been a key factor in the evolution of oursolar system, and the eventual formation of our home world.
Therefore, contemporaryplanet hunting techniques have not been ideal in furthering oursearch for extraterrestrial life. Since the current methods make itchallenging for us to seek earth-like planets directly, it may bemore beneficial to refocus our efforts in searching for otherhallmarks of our solar system, such as Jupiter analogues, which wenow know to be one of the building blocks necessary for the existenceof an "Earth Mark 2."
In light of this, it isnot surprising that the discovery of a gas giant with a similar massto Jupiter, orbiting at almost the exact same distance as thatseparating our Sun and Jupiter has created some excitement in thescientific community. Another compelling element to the recentdiscovery is that the chemical signature of the distant star tells usthat it is of a very similar composition and age to that of our Sun. The presence of Jupiter's twin hints at the existence of rocky innerplanets of a similar structure to those in our own solar system.
The discovery was madeusing the HARPS instrument mounted aboard the ESO's3.6-meter telescope located at the La Silla Observatory, Chile.The astronomers were able to detect the presence of the gas giantby observing a slight wobble in the motion of HIP 11915 as it isaffected by the exoplanet's gravity. However, the team could not ruleout the possibility that the Jupiter-like planet could be a phantomreading, and that the wobble could simply be caused by variations inthe star's magnetic field.
Further observationswill be required to confirm the discovery, however for now at least,HIP 11915 represents the best candidate to date for a solar system2.0.
A research paperregarding the team's findings has been published in the onlinejournal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The video below shows an animation of Jupiter's twin orbiting HIP 11915.