British astronomers, together with Australian and American colleagues, have used the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope [AAT] in New South Wales, Australia to discover a new planet outside our Solar System – the 100th to be detected. The discovery, which is part of a search for solar systems that resemble our own, will be announced today (Tuesday) at a conference on "The origin of life" in Graz, Austria. This takes the total number of planets found outside our solar system to 100, and scientists are now seeing a pattern in the orbits, giving clues to how they form.
The new planet, which has a mass about that of Jupiter, circles its star Tau1 Gruis about every four years. Tau1 Gruis can be found in the constellation Grus (the crane) and is about 100 light years away from Earth. The planet is three times as far from its star as the Earth is from the Sun.
`Now our searches have become precise enough to find many planets in orbits like those in our Solar System, we are seeing clues which may help us understand how planets are formed.` said UK team leader Hugh Jones of Liverpool John Moores University. `We are seeing a pattern for these planets to be of two types, those very close-in and another set with orbits further out. This Tau1 Gruis planet builds this second group. Why are there these two groups? We hope the theorists will be able to explain this.`
Julia Maddock | alfa
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