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Astronomers Spot New, Neptune-Sized Exoplanet with the Help of a Brilliant Star

First Posted: Jan 23, 2014 07:19 AM EST
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With the help of a bright star, astronomers have spotted a new exoplanet the size of Neptune. The finding could help researchers better understand this double star system.

The double star system in question is about 425 light-years from Earth. Astronomers first spotted the planet in this system by studying the star around which the planet revolves. Named Kepler 410A b, the planet was well-studied due to the brightness of the star. In fact, the star itself can be seen if binoculars are used.

The planet orbits one star of what appears to be a binary star. The orbit itself isn't circular, but is instead slightly eccentric. With a period of around 18 days, the planet is much closer to its star than Earth is to our sun. This means that it's highly unlikely that the planet would be suitable for life due to its high temperature.

Currently, there are about 1,000 known exoplanets. Yet what makes Kepler-410A b unusual is that it can be studied in detailed. It's been observed for four years with the Kepler space telescope. The same telescope has also allowed astronomers to get a very detailed study of the planet's host star.

"Ultimately, to understand anything about exoplanets, we need to understand the stars they revolve around," said Vincent Van Eylen, one of the researchers, in a news release. "In this case, asteroseismology has even allowed us to measure the inclination angle of the star. We now know we are looking at the equator of the star, not at the pole. This can be compared with the orbit of the planet to learn about planetary formation. The star is around 2.7 giga-years old and is a little larger than the sun. We will never be able to go there, as it is located at around 425 light-years from Earth."

The findings reveal a little bit more about this star system. In addition, they pave the way for future studies; astronomers currently believe there's another planet in the system, but they haven't yet spotted it. With future research, the scientists hope that they can learn a bit more about this binary star system.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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