East Hawaii News

New Planet’s Distance From Star Will Help Its Study

May 15, 2014, 12:41 PM HST
* Updated May 16, 8:59 AM
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While astronomers have been abuzz about the recent finding of a planet outside our solar system with the potential for life as we know it, astronomers say another discovery could open new doors of planetary study.

The Gemini and Keck observatories previously helped in the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet orbiting a star 500 light years away.

The planet is notable in that it is in the so-called Goldilocks Zone, located at a distance not too close or far from its star so that water can exist in liquid form.

Now the same Big Island observatories have played a role in the discovery of a new planet located much, much farther from its star.

Which can be a good thing, astronomers say.

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The new planet, named GU Psc b, is a gas giant located 155 light years from our solar system, orbiting a star in the constellation Pisces.

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The distance from the new planet to its star is 2,000 times the distance from Earth to our Sun. That means its year, the time it takes to complete an orbit around its sun, is about 80,000 Earth-years long.

But that distance gives astronomers more options for study of the planet.

Exoplanets located closer to their star get lost in the glare, so to speak, obscured to a degree by the light and heat from its host star.

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“GU Psc b is a true gift of nature,” said René Doyon, one of the lead researchers at the Université de Montréal, which is spearheading the project.

“The large distance that separates it from its star allows it to be studied in depth with a variety of instruments, which will provide a better understanding of giant exoplanets in general.”

GU Psc b orbits a young star and therefore is still cooling. Modeling indicates its temperature is nearly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and it has a mass of 9-13 times that of Jupiter.

The new planet was found by combining observations from the Gemini Observatory, W.M. Keck Observatory, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the Observatoire Mont-Mégantic in Montreal.

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