An international research team has discovered a Jupiter-like planet 100 light-years away that could help astronomers understand how planets formed in our solar system. Called 51 Eridani b, it is the first planet detected by the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), a new instrument that started running last year on the Gemini South telescope in Chile. Details about the new exoplanet, the lightest planet ever imaged, are published today by the journal Science.
“This discovery is of paramount importance in human exploration of the range of planets in our universe,” said Rebecca Oppenheimer, an author on the paper and curator and chair of the American Museum of Natural History’sDepartment of Astrophysics. “It marks a point where indirect detection of planets and directly seeing and analyzing their atmospheres are joining forces. We are no longer simply seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the broad diversity of planets in the Universe. Perhaps solar systems similar to ours are not uncommon.”
One of the best ways to learn how our solar system evolved is to look to younger star systems in the early stages of development. 51 Eridani b shares many of the characteristics of an early Jupiter and shows the strongest methane signature ever detected on an alien planet, which should yield additional clues as to how it formed.
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