The search for exoplanets and a deeper understanding of how planets, planetary systems and galaxies continues. And it yields great results.
A team of researchers from Stanford University, led by physics professor Bruce Macintosh unraveled a new Saturn-like exoplanet. After just last month a Brazilian team of researchers spotted Jupiter 2.0, an exoplanet similar in mass and ages with our solar system’s own Jupiter, the Stanford team found young Jupiter located approximately 96 light years from Earth.
Why are these findings so important? Because they allow researchers to take a peek into the formation and evolution of planets and solar systems alike. These processes have little been studied until now. With the technological advancements that look deeper and deeper into space, an entirely new era of exploration and understanding is emerging. Not only that, but it brings us one step closer to discovering planets and systems similar to our own. New signs of life are out there.
The young Jupiter, dubbed 51 Eridani b, is a gas giant, measuring twice the mass of Jupiter, while its atmosphere is mainly composed of methane. 51 Eridani b is orbiting its own young star, in itself very similar to our Sun, albeit at a greater distance than Jupiter orbits our Sun.
The research team made use of the Gemini Planet Imager located in Chile, with the Gemini South Telescope, which spotted 51 Eridani b as the exoplanet is still emanating heat from its formation.
As to the time the young Jupiter formed, the research team stated it would be 20 million years ago. By means of comparison, that would be approximately 40 million years after dinosaurs were already extinct on our home planet.
The temperature of the young exoplanet was measured to be approximately 800 degrees Fahrenheit. That stands in fair contrast with other gas giants that are measured to have a surface temperature of around 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, or above. Perhaps due to the fact that it is further away from its star, the young Jupiter is colder than other gas giants.
There are other ‘Jupiters’ out there. And that helps scientists dig deeper into planet formation. Why are there such differences in size and mass, or surface temperature?
To this extent, there are two theories of planet formation: they could have headed off for a ‘cold’ start or a ‘hot’ start. The former entails that slowly, in time, layer after layer of rocky core builds a planet big enough to attract its own gaseous atmosphere. The latter entails that material builds up quickly and the collapses gravitationally to form worlds.
It seems that 51 Eridani b would fit the first scenario better due to its colder temperature, below that any of other gas giants discovered.
The finding of the Stanford team features in the Science Advances journal.
Photo Credits: csmonitor.com