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Astronomers Spot Odd Gas Giant Planet Traveling Far from its Star

First Posted: May 13, 2014 01:00 PM EDT
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Astronomers have uncovered a new gas giant through direct imaging. Located around GU Psc, a star three times less massive than the sun, the new exoplanet reveals a little bit more about the planetary bodies in our universe.

The planet was first detected as part of a project to observe several hundred stars and to detect planets lighter than this one with similar orbits.

The planet itself is named GU Psc b, located in the constellation Pisces, and is about 2,000 times the Earth-Sun distance from its star, a record among exoplanets. This means that it takes approximately 80,000 Earth years for this exoplanet to make a complete orbit around its star.

It's this distance in particular that allowed astronomers to take the images that they did. By comparing these images obtained in different wavelengths from the OMM and CFHT, the researchers managed to correctly detect the planet. Planets are actually brighter when viewed in infrared rather than visible light, which is what allowed the researchers to identify the exoplanet.That said, determining the planet's mass with another chore entirely.

Observing a planet directly does not allow researchers to determine its mass. Instead, the scientists used theoretical models of planetary evolution to determine the exoplanet's characteristics. The light spectrum showed that the planet had a temperature of about 800 degree Celsius. And by knowing the age of the planet's star, the scientists then determined the planet's mass, which is 9 to 13 times the size of Jupiter.

"GU Psc b is a true gift of nature," said Rene Doyon, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The large distance that separates it from its star allows it to be studied in depth with a variety of instruments, which will provide a better understanding of giant exoplanets in general."

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