New Exo-Planet Discovered
NASA has reported that there is a Jupiter mass planet around Epsilon Eridani, only 10.5 light years from Earth:
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, in collaboration with ground-based observatories, has provided definitive evidence for the existence of the nearest extrasolar planet to our solar system.
The Jupiter-sized world orbits the Sun-like star Epsilon Eridani, which is only 10.5 light-years away (approximately 63 trillion miles). The planet is so close it may be observable by Hubble and large ground-based telescopes in late 2007, when the planet makes its closest approach to Epsilon Eridani during its 6.9-year orbit.
The Hubble observations were achieved by a team led by G. Fritz Benedict and Barbara E. McArthur of the University of Texas at Austin. The observations reveal the the planet’s true mass, which the team has calculated to be 1.5 times Jupiter’s mass.
Hubble also found that the planet’s orbit is tilted 30 degrees to our line of sight, which is the same inclination as a disk of dust and gas that also encircles Epsilon Eridani. This is a particularly exciting result because, although it has long been inferred that planets form from such disks, this is the first time that the two objects have been observed around the same star.
Additionally, the release stated:
Although Hubble and other telescopes cannot image the gas giant planet now, they may be able to snap pictures of it in 2007, when its orbit is closest to Epsilon Eridani. The planet may be bright enough in reflected starlight to be imaged by Hubble, other space-based cameras, and large ground-based telescopes.
For Star Trek fans, Epsilon Eridani is interesting because that star was at one time proposed as the the one around which orbits the homeworld of Mr. Spock: Vulcan. Now, however, it is generally thought that in the fictional universe of Star Trek, Eridani 40, 16 light years from Earth, is the actual homeworld of the Vulcans.