- News Home
24 April 2014 11:45 am ,
Vol. 344 ,
Major climate data sets have underestimated the rate of global warming in the last 15 years owing largely to poor data...
The tsetse fly is best known as the vector for the trypanosome parasites that cause sleeping sickness and a disease in...
The National Institutes of Health is revising its "two strikes" rule, which allowed researchers only one chance to...
By stabilizing the components of retromers, molecular complexes that act like recycling bins in cells, a recently...
Fossil fuels power modern society by generating heat, but much of that heat is wasted. Semiconductor devices called...
Researchers are gaining insights into what made Supertyphoon Haiyan so powerful and devastating through post-storm...
Millions around the world got a first-hand look at what it was like to be in Tacloban while it was pummeled by...
- 24 April 2014 11:45 am , Vol. 344 , #6182
- About Us
Smallest Distant Planets Yet Detected
29 March 2000 7:00 pm
WASHINGTON, D.C.--The planet hunters are at it again, and this time, they've bagged two Saturn-sized worlds. The two planets orbiting distant stars are the smallest extrasolar planets yet found, and they're the first proof that scientists would be able to spot a solar system with a geometry like our own.
In the past 5 years, astronomers have detected about 30 planets beyond our sun's neighborhood. No one has seen these distant planets directly, but they are revealed by their gravity: The tug of orbiting planets creates telltale wobbles in a star's motion. Smaller planets exert less power over their suns, so it has been all but impossible to find a planet very distant from its sun or smaller than about half the mass of Jupiter--until recently.
Astronomers Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., have found about two-thirds of all the extrasolar planets to date. Now, they have tripled the precision of their spectrometer and detected two planets roughly one-third the size of Jupiter, they announced today at a NASA press briefing. The first planet orbits the star HD43675, located 109 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros; the second orbits the star 79 Ceti, 117 light-years away in the constellation Cetus. The detection of such small planets means that Marcy and Butler's equipment is sensitive enough to detect a twin of our solar system, one with a Jupiter-mass planet fairly distant from its star.
Carnegie Institution astrophysicist Alan Boss believes that the detection of these two planets suggests that there are a whole range of planetary masses in alien systems--from rare super-Jupiters to fairly common sub-Saturns and below. "What we're seeing is really just the tip of the iceberg," he says. NASA space scientist Anne Kinney concurs: "This is brand new; we're going to learn what kind of animals are in that zoo."