Scientists have found a planet -- about two times the mass of Jupiter -- about 100 light years away from the Earth. Its resemblance to the planets of the Sun's solar system makes it the first such around another star.
Astronomers used Gemini Observatory's new Planet Imager (GPI) to look into the exoplanet (a planet which orbits a star outside the solar system) in unprecedented detail and the research paper was published in the latest issue of the reputed academic journal, Science.
The planet, known as 51 Eridani b, orbits its host star at about 13 times the Earth-Sun distance -- a distance equivalent to that between Saturn and Uranus in solar system. The system is located about 100 light years away.
The Gemini data shows the strongest-ever spectroscopic detection of methane in an atmosphere of a planet outside of the solar system.
"Many of the exoplanets astronomers have imaged before have atmospheres that look like very cool stars," said Bruce Macintosh of Stanford University who led the construction of the GPI and now leads the planet-hunting survey.
"This one looks like a planet."
Discovery image of 51 Eridani b with the Gemini Planet Imager taken in the near-infrared light on December 18, 2014 (Photo courtesy: J. Rameau [UdeM] and C. Marois [NRC Herzberg])
"This superb result is a clear demonstration of the remarkable imaging and spectroscopic capabilities of GPI," said Chris Davis, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Astronomy Division program officer who oversees Gemini Observatory funding.
"The exoplanet surveys now possible with Gemini will undoubtedly lead to a far better understanding of the numbers of gas giants orbiting neighboring stars, the characteristics of their atmospheres, and ultimately the way in which giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn are formed."
The discovery is part of the team's broader effort to find and characterise new planets called the GPI Exoplanet Survey (GPIES). The survey expects to explore over 600 stars that could host planetary systems; so far they've looked at almost a hundred stars.
"This is exactly the kind of system we envisioned discovering when we designed GPI", says James Graham, professor at UC Berkeley and Project Scientist for GPI.