While we may not yet know what it looks like, we know for sure that it exists.
According to new research in Nature, a second giant planet has been discovered revolving around a star called Beta Pictoris.
At 23 million years old, Beta Pictoris is a relatively young star, situated 63.4 light-years away. It’s the second brightest star in the constellation Pictor.
According to the Exoplanet Encyclopaedia, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) discovered a first planet, Beta Pictoris b, orbiting around its star in 2008, using direct imagery.
Beta Pictoris b is currently the closest extrasolar planet to its star ever photographed, with its distance from its own sun being roughly the same as the distance between Saturn and our sun.
Led by Anne-Marie Lagrange, research director at the CNRS at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics in Grenoble, a team of researchers in France were responsible for discovering of the second planet in the system, Beta Pictoris c.
The planet is nearly ten times the mass of gas giant Jupiter
As well as having an orbit of roughly 1,200 Earth days and the distance from its own star being roughly equivalent to that between our own sun and the asteroid belt, the planet is nearly ten times the mass of gas giant Jupiter.
“Right now, we know it exists but we don’t yet have an image of it, as it’s very close to its star,” Lagrange told Business Insider France.
In fact, Beta Pictoris c is located 3.3 times closer to its star than Beta Pictoris b, the other planet in this system — and its proximity is precisely what’s made its detection difficult.
“The closer the planet is to its star, the more blinded we are by the light of the star,” said Lagrange. “It, therefore, becomes difficult to make the planet out. It’s like trying to see a speck of dust one meter from a lighthouse itself when the lighthouse is hundreds of kilometers from the observer.”
Over 10 years of data from the HARPS instrument at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile were used to “indirectly detect” Beta Pictoris c, observing the effects produced by the planet on its star.
The researchers still have a lot of work to do
The next step will be to refine the planet’s orbit, to make an attempt at obtaining direct images of the planet so we can see its surface, as well as to determine the composition of its atmosphere.
According to Lagrange, this should take roughly five years.
Due to the fact that the two “giants” are gaseous planets, they aren’t actually habitable — there’s no physical earth there as there would be on terrestrial planets.
The Beta Pictoris system in which the two giant planets are located is “the only system we have ever seen that’s this complex”, according to Lagrange. “It is a monstrous system compared to our own solar system, its star being 1.5 times more massive than the sun. And it is an incredible system with a dust disc, two giant planets, exocomets around this star.
The age of Beta Pictoris means studying the system is a unique opportunity for scientists
It is, in particular, the dynamics between the different components of this system that researchers are interested in.
Moreover, the fact that its star is relatively young and is only around 60 light-years from Earth makes it a unique opportunity for scientists.
“This could allow us to understand how planetary systems are formed and how they evolve in their early stages,” said Lagrange, explaining that it could tell us more about the formation of our own solar system.
Data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite and the future Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in Chile, should allow scientists to learn more about this complex global system.
Source : Google News