Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick
mckitterick

Astro-Image of the Day: Even Small Stars Grow Huge Planets

Scientists have discovered a new planet beyond the Solar System. One of the neatest things about it is that it's a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting a Type M (dwarf) star that is only 1/12 the mass of our Sun: Barely massive enough to do atomic fusion and shine like, y'know, a star:


Click the image to see the story.

Here's a dramatic comparison of the planet (VB10b) to its parent star, VB10:


Click the image to see the story.

Note that they're nearly the same diameter! Holy shrunken suns, Batman! Compare them to the Sun-Mercury images below in the illustration. They used a technique called astrometry, which measures the motion of a star across the sky as an unseen object - in this case, a planet - tugs the star back and forth, making it wobble.

A pair of Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomers has spent 12 years taking intermittent observations of 30 stars using astrometry instrument attached to a telescope at Palomar Observatory. Recently, the team identified a new planet around one of the stars.

"This method is optimal for finding solar-system configurations like ours that might harbor other Earths," said team member Steven Pravdo of JPL. "We found a Jupiter-like planet at around the same relative place as our Jupiter, only around a much smaller star. It's possible this star also has inner rocky planets. And since more than seven out of 10 stars are small like this one, this could mean planets are more common than we thought."

VB10 and its planet live 20 light-years away in the constellation Aquila. Close enough to visit with a fast enough car.

Cool beans!
Chris
Tags: astronomy
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