Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

It’s Far, It’s Small, It’s Cool: It’s an Icy Exoplanet!

26.01.2006


Distant Planet Brings Astronomers Closer To Home


Artist’s Impression of the Newly Found Exoplanet



Using a network of telescopes scattered across the globe, including the Danish 1.54m telescope at ESO La Silla (Chile), astronomers [1] discovered a new extrasolar planet significantly more Earth-like than any other planet found so far. The planet, which is only about 5 times as massive as the Earth, circles its parent star in about 10 years. It is the least massive exoplanet around an ordinary star detected so far and also the coolest [2]. The planet most certainly has a rocky/icy surface. Its discovery marks a groundbreaking result in the search for planets that support life.

The new planet, designated by the unglamorous identifier of OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, orbits a red star five times less massive than the Sun and located at a distance of about 20,000 light years, not far from the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.


Its relatively cool parent star and large orbit implies that the likely surface temperature of the planet is 220 degrees Centigrade below zero, too cold for liquid water. It is likely to have a thin atmosphere, like the Earth, but its rocky surface is probably deeply buried beneath frozen oceans. It may therefore more closely resemble a more massive version of Pluto, rather than the rocky inner planets like Earth and Venus.

“This planet is actually the first and only planet that has been discovered so far that is in agreement with the theories for how our Solar System formed”, said Uffe Gråe Jørgensen (Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark), member of the team.

The favoured theoretical explanation for the formation of planetary systems proposes that solid ‘planetesimals’ accumulate to build up planetary cores, which then accrete nebular gas - to form giant planets - if they are sufficiently massive. Around red dwarfs, the most common stars of our Galaxy, this model favours the formation of Earth- to Neptune-mass planets being between 1 and 10 times the Earth-Sun distance away from their host.

“OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb is only the third extra-solar planet discovered so far through microlensing searches”, said Jean-Philippe Beaulieu (Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, France), the lead author. “While the other two microlensing planets have masses of a few times that of Jupiter, the discovery of a 5 Earth mass planet - though much harder to detect than more massive ones - is a strong hint that these lower-mass objects are very common.”

Contrary to most exoplanets discovered, it was found using the “microlensing” technique, based on an effect noted by Albert Einstein in 1912.

“With this method, we let the gravity of a dim, intervening star act as a giant natural telescope for us, magnifying a more distant star, which then temporarily looks brighter”, explained team member Andrew Williams (Perth Observatory, Australia). “A small ‘defect’ in the brightening reveals the existence of a planet around the lens star. We don’t see the planet, or even the star that it’s orbiting, we just see the effect of their gravity.”

Such an intervening star causes a characteristic brightening that lasts about a month. Any planets orbiting this star can produce an additional signal, lasting days for giant planets down to hours for Earth-mass planets.

In order to be able to catch and characterize these planets, nearly-continuous round-the-clock high-precision monitoring of ongoing microlensing events is required. This is achieved by the PLANET network of 1m-class telescopes consisting of the ESO 1.54m Danish at La Silla (Chile), the Canopus Observatory 1.0m (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia), the Perth 0.6m (Bickley, Western Australia), the Boyden 1.5m (South Africa), and the SAAO 1.0m (Sutherland, South Africa). Since 2005, PLANET operates a common campaign with RoboNet, a UK operated network of 2m fully robotic telescopes currently comprising the Liverpool Telescope (Roque de Los Muchachos, La Palma, Spain) and the Faulkes Telescope North (Haleakala, Hawaii, USA).

The OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment) search team (led by A. Udalski, Warsaw University Observatory, Poland) discovered the event OGLE-2005-BLG-390 on 11 July 2005, triggering the PLANET telescopes to start taking data. A light curve consistent with a single lens star peaking at an amplification of about 3 on 31 July 2005 was observed, until 10 August when PLANET member Pascal Fouqué, observing at the Danish 1.54m at ESO La Silla, noticed a planetary deviation. An OGLE point from the same night showed the same trend, while the last half of the planetary deviation, lasting about a day, had been covered by images from Perth Observatory. The MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics) collaboration was later able to identify the source star on its images and confirmed the deviation.

No other interpretation than the presented sub-Neptune mass planet with its quoted parameters appeared to fit the extensive data set. This discovery brings a fresh look at the field of planetary science.

In particular, astronomers now think that such frozen worlds are much more common than their larger, Jupiter-like brethren. “Indeed if Jupiter-like planets were as widespread, the microlensing method should have found dozens of them by now", said David Bennett (University of Notre Dame, USA), another PLANET team member.

The microlensing technique is most probably the only method currently capable of detecting planets similar to Earth. “The search for a second Earth is the driving force behind our research and this discovery constitutes a major leap forward since it is the most Earth-like planet we know of so far”, said co-author Daniel Kubas, ESO.

A report has been published in the January 26 edition of the leading journal Nature (“Discovery of a cool planet of 5.5 Earth masses through gravitational microlensing” by J.-P. Beaulieu, D. P. Bennett, P. Fouqué, A. Williams, M. Dominik, U. G. Jorgensen, D. Kubas et al.).

[1] This result is a joint effort of three independent microlensing campaigns: PLANET/RoboNet, OGLE, and MOA, involving a total of 73 collaborators affiliated with 32 institutions in 12 countries (France, United Kingdom, Poland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, United States of America, South Africa, and Japan).

[2] This value is uncertain by a factor of two. The lowest-mass exoplanet known until now was GJ 876d, which has a probable mass of 7.5 Earth’s masses. Unlike the present discovered planet, GJ 876d circles its parent star in about 2 days. It is thus very hot. By comparison, Uranus has about 15 times the mass of the Earth and Neptune, 17, while giant Jupiter weighs as much as 318 earths.

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2006/pr-03-06.html
http://www.eso.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Basque researchers turn light upside down
23.02.2018 | Elhuyar Fundazioa

nachricht Attoseconds break into atomic interior
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>