Scientists are getting particularly picky when searching for new planets in the farthest corners of our galaxy. Earth-like planets they are hunting down must not only be capable of sustaining life, but also reside in a solar system much like our own. A team of scientists may have found a planet fulfilling the required criteria to sustain life. This Jupiter twin orbits HIP 11915 and lies 200 light years from Earth.
Researchers were only capable of identifying this Jupiter look-alike by using the La Silla Observatory in Chile, which houses an extremely powerful telescope. They explain that the planet they have identified has a very similar mass to our solar system’s giant, Jupiter, and orbits a star much like our sun. In fact, this newly found planet lies at a similar distance from its star as Jupiter is from the sun.
And if these similarities weren’t enough, HIP 11915 is approximately the same age as our solar system’s star. In fact, astronomy enthusiasts may even see the star with the aid of everyday binoculars if gazing near the Cetus constellation in North America’s southern night skies.
According to statements made by the European Space Agency, researchers even believe that, taking into account the parent star’s composition, rocky planets may be orbiting in its vicinity.
According to Megan Bedell, an astrophysics graduate student at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, such a discovery is quite exciting as it supports the idea that other solar systems, similar to our own, may be found in our galaxy. Discovering gas giants orbiting stars similar to our Sun is only the first step in discovering such solar systems.
But why exactly are this planet and its parent star so special? For one, the newly discovered planet is a gas giant, and, as previously stated, it is orbiting its sun at pretty much the same distance that Jupiter is orbiting the sun. In fact, the gaseous giant requires approximately 3,600 days do circle HP 11915, while Jupiter requires 4,330 days to complete its orbital phase.
Of course, scientists have been attempting to find other matches, but the search hasn’t produced the results that astronomers had hoped for. According to Richard Hook, one of the European Southern Observatory’s spokespeople, this newly discovered planet is the closest match yet.
Astronomers and astrophysicists can use this information and gain further insight as to the conditions required for life to arise in extrasolar systems. Massive planets such as Jupiter are theorized to have had a significant influence on how smaller, rocky planets have formed around their parent stars. And since Earth, such a rocky planet, was capable of sustaining life, planets such as Jupiter are considered to represent life-promoting factors in such solar systems.
But much more than just representing a life-friendly asset, Jupiter’s (and other similar planets’) influence also extends protectively in the sense that it directs comets and asteroids towards its parent star, or pulling some in.
However, the struggle is far from over. Aside from a parent star similar to our sun, a gas giant similar to Jupiter, such solar systems also require an exoplanet capable of harboring water in liquid form. This planet must also reside in what scientists call a habitable zone, which lies at a safe distance from the star as to not overheat, but not too far away, so that the water doesn’t freeze.
Until now, an Earth-like planet hasn’t been identified orbiting HIP 11915. The time isn’t lost, however. This particular planet would have to pass directly in front of the star in order to create a silhouette that astronomers could detect from here.
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