Friday, April 14, 2023

Exploring Habitable Exoplanets: Unveiling a New Giant Planet Beyond Our Solar System

5:02 PM | ,

New exoplanet HIP99770b discovered
 In the immense expanse of the cosmos, finding habitable planets outside our solar system can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, an international team of scientists, in a study published in Science, has combined various search techniques to discover an enormous new planet. Among these techniques, direct imaging is perhaps the simplest, though not easily implemented. Direct imaging involves attaching a powerful camera to a large telescope to try to detect light emitted or reflected by a planet. Since stars are bright and planets are not, this is akin to searching for fireflies around a reflector. To date, only around 20 planets have been discovered using this method. Nevertheless, direct imaging is valuable as it can reveal a planet's atmospheric properties, such as temperature and composition, in ways that other detection techniques cannot. The direct imaging of a new planet, called HIP99770b, shows a warm, giant, moderately cloudy world that orbits its star at a distance between Saturn's and Uranus's orbits around our Sun.

The star HIP99770 is almost 14 times brighter than the Sun, but since its planet has a larger orbit than Saturn's, the planet receives a Jupiter-like amount of energy from the star. With approximately 15 times Jupiter's mass, HIP99770b is a true giant. The average temperature of this celestial body is 1,000°C, making it uninhabitable. However, the HIP99770 system resembles our Solar System, as it has a cold "debris disk" of ice and rock away from the star, similar to an enlarged version of our Solar System's Kuiper belt. The main difference is that the HIP99770 system is dominated by a single massive planet, rather than numerous smaller planets. To observe this object, scientists employed classic indirect detection methods, noticing the star's wobble in space, which suggested a nearby planet with a significant gravitational pull. Additional data came from the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft, which has been measuring the positions of nearly a billion stars since 2014. Gaia is sensitive enough to detect minute variations in a star's motion in space, such as those caused by planets. Researchers integrated this data with measurements from Gaia's predecessor, Hipparcos, resulting in 25 years of astrometric (positional) data.

This groundbreaking search method combined direct imaging and astrometry for the first time, offering a more efficient way to search for planets. Until now, researchers had used indirect methods to guide imaging discovery of companion stars but not planets. This is because massive stars like HIP99770, almost twice the mass of our Sun, are hesitant to reveal their secrets. Traditional search techniques often fail to achieve the precision needed to detect planets around such massive stars. The astrometry of HIP99770 indicates that it belongs to the Argus star association, a group of stars moving together in space, suggesting that the system is relatively young, around 40 million years old – one hundredth the age of our Solar System. However, our analysis of the star's pulsations and brightness patterns indicates an older age of 120 to 200 million years. If this is true, HIP99770 may simply be an intruder in the Argus group. Now that the existence of a planet is confirmed, astronomers will seek to further unravel the mysteries of HIP99770 and its surroundings.


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