For the first time, astronomers have taken a picture of a young exoplanet that resembles our solar system’s largest world, Jupiter, in orbit and size. Called 51 Eridani b, the world is the first in a looming wave of discoveries promised by a new generation of planet-hunting instruments, and could help scientists unlock the secrets of how Jupiter and other gas giants form and shape their planetary systems.
Discovered in December 2014 using the newly installed Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) on the Gemini South telescope in Chile, 51 Eridani b may soon be confirmed as the smallest directly-imaged exoplanet to date. The finding was announced yesterday at the “In the Spirit of Lyot” astronomy conference in Montreal, Canada during a presentation by GPI’s principal investigator, the Stanford University astronomer Bruce Macintosh. He and other GPI team members declined to comment for this story. They have submitted a paper detailing their discovery to the journal Science, which has strict rules that bar authors publicizing data before publication.
The new exoplanet orbits the Sun-like star 51 Eridani in the constellation Eridanus, some 96 light-years from Earth. Macintosh and his team estimate that 51 Eridani b is twice as massive as Jupiter, and 2.5 times farther from its star. Unlike our familiar gas giant, however, which is about 4.5 billion years old and a chilly -145 degrees Celsius at its cloud tops, 51 Eridani b is much younger and hotter—no older than 25 million years, with methane-laced clouds heated to nearly 400 degrees C.To read more, click here.