(ORDO NEWS) — A new study by an international team of astrophysicists led by the Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics has unveiled a startling new discovery of an almost identical Jupiter twin orbiting a star at a whopping 17,000 light-years from Earth.
Exoplanet K2-2016-BLG-0005Lb, almost identical to Jupiter in mass and distance from the Sun, was discovered using data obtained in 2016 by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. This exoplanet system is twice as far away as anything previously spotted by Kepler, which found more than 2,700 confirmed planets before shutting down in 2018.
The system was detected using gravitational microlensing, a prediction of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and is the first planet to be detected from space in this way. The study has been submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and is available as a preprint on the ArXiv website.
Lead author of the new study is PhD student David Specht of the University of Manchester. To find the exoplanet using the microlensing effect, the team examined Kepler data collected from April to July 2016, when it regularly observed millions of stars near the center of the Galaxy. The goal was to find evidence that the exoplanet and its host star temporarily bend and amplify the light from the background star as it passes line of sight.
“To see this effect, you need near-perfect alignment between the foreground planetary system and the background star,” says Dr. Eamonn Kerins, principal investigator on the Science and Technology Council (STFC) grant that funded the work. Dr. Kerins adds: “The odds of a background star being affected in this way by a planet are tens to hundreds of millions to one against. But there are hundreds of millions of stars at the center of our Galaxy. So Kepler just sat and watched them for three months.” “.
After developing specific analysis methods, candidate signals were finally discovered last year using a new search algorithm presented in a study led by Dr. Ian McDonald, then a STFC postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Kerins. Among the five new microlensing signals detected during the analysis, one showed clear signs of an anomaly consistent with the presence of an orbiting exoplanet.
At the same time as Kepler, five international ground-based studies were looking at the same area of the sky. At a distance of about 135 million kilometers from Earth, Kepler saw the anomaly a little earlier and longer than the teams observing from Earth. The new study exhaustively modeled the combined dataset and showed conclusively that the signal was caused by a distant exoplanet.
The difference in viewpoint between Kepler and observers on Earth allowed us to triangulate the position of the planetary system on the line of sight,” says Dr. Kerins.
Kepler was also able to observe without interference from weather or daylight, which allowed us to pinpoint the mass of the exoplanet and its orbital distance from the host star. In fact, it is an identical twin of Jupiter in its mass and distance from the Sun, the mass of which is about 60% of the mass of our Sun.”
NASA will launch the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope later this decade. Roman will detect potentially thousands of distant planets using the microlensing method. The European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, scheduled to launch next year, may also search for exoplanets using microlensing as an additional science activity.
Dr. Kerins is Deputy Head of the ESA Science Working Group on Euclid Exoplanets. Kepler was never designed to search for planets using microlensing, so it’s surprising in many ways that it succeeded. Roman and Euclid, on the other hand, will be optimized for this kind of work. They will be able to complete the planetary census started by Kepler,” he said.
“We will learn how typical the architecture of our own solar system is. The data obtained will also allow us to test our ideas about how planets form. This is the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our search for other worlds.”
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