Astronomers have found a distant planet called HIP 99770 b, but the way they discovered it may be even more amazing than simply spotting the planet. They used a brand new technique that combined two different methods to spot this far away world. This incredible discovery might help us find planets much like Earth orbiting stars in our vicinity.
When you use telescopes to look for exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) you can’t always take a picture of them. That’s because usually they are too close to the star they are orbiting and the star is so bright, it obscures its light. To get a clearer image of an exoplanet, it’s best to find one that’s farther away from its own star because then there’s more contrast between their lights.
Another way to find exoplanets is known as “precision astrometry”. Basically, this means looking out for stars that seem to be “wobbling”, which means the gravity might be influenced by an exoplanet that cannot be seen. This method is great for quickly finding planets orbiting around their star in a way similar to Earth and the Sun. As of now, precision astrometry has resulted in more than 5,000 exoplanet discoveries being made which is much higher compared to only about 20 exoplanets discovered with direct imaging!
A team of researchers from around the world, headed by Thayne Currie at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and University of Texas San Antonio, have used two different methods to find a new exoplanet. First, they used information from the Hipparcos-Gaia Catalogue, which is like a map that follows nearly two million stars in our Milky Way galaxy. This helped them identify HIP 99770 as a star likely to have an exoplanet orbiting it. Then, they took a direct image of this newly discovered planet (called HIP 99770 b) using Ultra-powerful telescope called “Subaru” located on top of Mount Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
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The European Space Agency image shows that the exoplanet is 16 times heavier than the planet Jupiter in our Solar System. Although its orbit is three times further away from its Sun, HIP 99770 b still gets as much light as Jupiter because its star is twice as big as ours. Scientists believe that this exoplanet could have water and carbon monoxide in its atmosphere.
Astronomers believe that they’ve opened an interesting new way of finding extra planets. This method includes combining two ways to observe them – direct and indirect imaging. Gaia’s upcoming fourth data release will have twice as much information as the last one and make it easier to find stars moving due to other planet’s gravity. The team is currently looking at data from around 50 stars which could possibly have extra planets orbiting them.
Currie said, “We’re doing this to practice the kind of plan that can be used to take a picture of Earth. It’s proof that we can figure out where to spot it and when is the best time to take a picture. I think that’s pretty cool!”