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New Planet and Planet Formation: Young Gassy Giant Has Methane and Water

Aug 14, 2015 05:54 PM EDT
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It's a grand new world, with a new planet that resembles a young Jupiter.This planet, which is being called 51 Eridani b, was discovered 100 light-years away in a young star system. With this new learning about an exoplanet (one outside our solar system), we might find out more about how planets formed around the sun.

Who found it? Researchers at institutions including UCLA, University of California, Berkeley, University of Georgia, and others recently wrote about their new space discovery in the online edition of the journal Science.

51 Eridani b is but a young thing. It is 20 million years old, whereas the rest of us--Jupiter, the sun and Earth--are about 4.5 billion years old. The newbie planet was discovered by the Gemini Planet Imager, or GPI, and is the first to be found in that way. GPI is a system set up to find and analyze young planets circling bright, nearby stars, according to a release.

Finding something similar to our own solar system, with large planets near to their stars, is a change, noted study co-author James Larkin, of UCLA. GPI can more readily detect systems like ours. "[The imager] will reveal to us how common our solar system architecture truly is," said Larkin in the release.

GPI has a highly advanced spectrometer that detected methane on 51 Eridani b, the release noted.

Actually, the new planet has the strongest methane concentration found on a planet outside the Milky Way. It also has water, which may reveal more about how the planet formed, said the release.

51 Eridani b is roughly twice the mass of Jupiter, and has a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it fairly cold compared with other gas giants, which are often above 1000 degrees, noted the release.

"This is exactly the kind of planet we envisioned discovering when we designed GPI," said James Graham, a UC Berkeley professor and GPI's project scientist, in a release.

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @TreesWhales

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