Planet Jupiter Has A Younger Sibling – And We Have a Photo of It!

A planet similar to how Jupiter looked in its formative years  has been discovered by scientists using a high-tech camera that has been especially designed to capture photographs of distant planets – the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI).

The planet, known by the name 51 Eridani b is 96 light years away from Earth and is twice the size of Jupiter. However, it still remains as one of the smallest planets in our solar system to be captured by astronomers. Previously, those pictured have been up to 13 times the size of Jupiter.

The star it circles, 51 Eridani is only 20 million years old, in contrast to our sun which is thought to be around 4.5 billion years old.

So Why The Interest In Young Jupiter?

The fact that the ‘new Jupiter’ is still influenced by its surrounding conditions provides astronomers with an opportunity to study 51 Eridani b in great detail. There are also many similarities to Jupiter billions of years ago means that areas that were not focused on the first time around can now be discovered and researched in great detail.

“51 Eridani b is the first young planet that probably looks like Jupiter did billions of years ago, making it currently our most important corner piece of the planet-formation jigsaw puzzle,” says Travis Barman,  Planetary Scientist at University of Arizona.

Another simularity between the two planets is that they both include methane in their atmosphere, giving astronomers the opportunity to learn more about the formation and the evolution of this type of gas-planet. So far, it has been discovered that 51 Eridani b’s temperature is considerably higher, estimated to be around 800 degrees.

A Breakthrough In Discovery

Over the last 20 years, scientists have confirmed the existence of 1,800 exoplanets and  alien planets around other stars. However, this image marks something significant in the breakthrough of technology and discovery. The Gemini Planet Imager has been able to capture something quite remarkable.

“This is exactly the kind of planet we envisioned discovering when we designed GPI,” said James Graham, project scientist for GPI.

This invention of GPI will not only be able to discover unknown planets, but will provide clues as to how the solar systems form.

“Unlike most of the currently known confirmed exoplanets, these GPI images of exoplanets allow us to examine planetary atmospheric information, which will eventually allow astronomers to examine biosignatures from mature planets during the next decade”, said Inseok Song, Associate Professor of Astronomy at University of Georgia.

While this discovery is still fairly new, scientists are going to start observing 51 Eridani b’s orbit in September. In the meantime, check out Science Mag to find out more information and keep up to date on the latest discoveries.


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