A new study by an international team of astrophysicists, led by the Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics, has unveiled the stunning new discovery of an almost identical twin of Jupiter orbiting a star at a colossal distance of 17,000 light-years from Earth.
The exoplanet, K2-2016-BLG-0005Lb, is almost identical to Jupiter in terms of its mass and distance from the sun, was discovered using data obtained in 2016 by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. The exoplanetary system is twice as distant as anything previously seen by Kepler, which found over 2,700 confirmed planets before ceasing operations in 2018.
The system was found using gravitational microlensing, a prediction of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and is the first planet to have been discovered from space in this way. The study was submitted to the journal Monthly announcements from the Royal Astronomical Society and has been made available as a pre-print on ArXiv.org.
Ph.D. student, David Specht from the University of Manchester is the lead author of the new research. To find an exoplanet using the microlens effect, the team searched through Kepler data collected between April and July 2016, as it regularly monitored millions of stars near the center of the galaxy. The goal was to look for evidence that an exoplanet and its host star temporarily bend and magnify the light from a background star as it crosses the line of sight.
“To see the effect at all, it requires almost perfect alignment between the planetary system in the foreground and a background star,” said Dr. Eamonn Kerins, lead researcher for the grant from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which funded the work. Dr. Kerins adds: “The chance of a background star being affected in this way by a planet is ten to hundreds of millions against one against. But there are hundreds of millions of stars towards the center of our galaxy. So Kepler just sat and saw on them for three months. “
Following the development of specialized analysis methods, candidate signals were finally revealed last year using a new search algorithm presented in a study led by Dr. Iain McDonald, at the time STFC-funded postdoc researcher working with Dr. Kerins. Among five new candidate microlens signals revealed in that analysis, one showed clear indications of an anomaly consistent with the presence of an orbiting exoplanet.
Five international ground-based studies also looked at the same area of the sky at the same time as Kepler. At a distance of about 135 million km from Earth, Kepler saw the anomaly a little earlier and for longer than the teams observing from Earth. The new study exhaustively models the combined data set and definitively shows that the signal is caused by a distant exoplanet.
“The difference in vantage point between Kepler and observers here on Earth allowed us to triangulate where along our line of sight the planetary system is located,” says Dr. Kerins.
“Kepler was also able to observe continuously from weather or daylight, allowing us to determine the exact mass of the exoplanet and its orbital distance from its host star. It is basically Jupiter’s identical twin in terms of its mass and its position from its Sun, which is about 60% of our own Sun’s mass. “
Later this decade, NASA will launch the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. The novel will potentially find thousands of distant planets using the microlens method. The European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, which is expected to be launched next year, could also conduct a microlensing exoplanet search as an additional scientific activity.
Dr. Kerins is the Deputy Head of the ESA Euclid Exoplanet Science Working Group. “Kepler was never designed to find planets using microlensing, so in many ways it is amazing that it has done so. Roman and Euclid, on the other hand, will be optimized for this kind of work. They will be able to to complete the planet census started by Kepler. ” he said.
“We will learn how typical the architecture of our own solar system is. The data will also allow us to test our ideas on how planets form. This is the start of a new exciting chapter in our search for other worlds.”
The Kepler telescope glimpses the population of free-floating planets
D. Specht et al., Kepler K2 Campaign 9: II. First space-based discovery of an exoplanet using microlensing. arXiv: 2203.16959v1 [astro-ph.EP]arxiv.org/abs/2203.16959
Provided by Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics
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