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27 November 2013 12:59 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
The new head of the National Center for Science Education promises to "fight the good fight" against attacks on...
Analyses of the H7N9 strains isolated from four new cases show that the virus is evolving rapidly, heightening anxiety...
In 2009, Jack Szostak shared a Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the role of telomeres, the end bits of...
Science has exposed a thriving academic black market in China involving shady agencies, corrupt scientists, and...
Paper-selling agencies flourish in the aura of reputable businesses. For some scientists, it may be difficult to tell...
Featuring the first lunar rover in 40 years, Chang'e-3 is seen as an important milestone on China's quest to send a...
Data collected by satellites and floating probes have chronicled a 2-decade rise in the temperature and thickness of a...
Cholesterol, the artery-clogging molecule that contributes to cardiovascular disease, has another nasty trick up its...
- 27 November 2013 12:59 pm , Vol. 342 , #6162
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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."