A hot, gaseous and fast-spinning planet has been found orbiting a dying star on the edge of the Milky Way, in the first such discovery of a planet from outside our galaxy.
Slightly larger than Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, the newly discovered exoplanet is orbiting a star 2,000 light years from Earth that has found its way into the Milky Way.
The pair are believed to be part of the Helmi stream, a group of stars that remains after its mini-galaxy was devoured by the Milky Way some six to nine billion years ago.
Because of the great distances involved, there have been no confirmed detections of planets in other galaxies. But this cosmic merger has brought an extragalactic planet within our reach.
Astronomers were able to locate the planet, coined HIP 13044 b, by focusing on the tiny telltale wobbles of the star caused by the gravitational tug of an orbiting companion. They used a powerful telescope owned by the European Southern Laboratory at La Silla Observatory in Chile, located at an altitude of 2,400 meters, some 600 kilometers north of the capital, Santiago.
The planet is quite close to the star it is orbiting, and survived a phase in which its host star went through a massive growth after it depleted its core hydrogen fuel supply, a phase known as the “red giant” stage.
The discovery is particularly intriguing when we consider the distant future of our own planetary system, as our Sun is also expected to become a red giant in about five billion years.
The exoplanet is likely to be quite hot because it is orbiting so close to its star, completing each orbit in just over 16 days, and is probably near the end of its life.
The star may have already swallowed other planets in its orbit, making the star spin more quickly and meaning that time is running out for the surviving exoplanet.
Astronomers are mystified as to how the planet might have formed, since the star contained few elements heavier than hydrogen and helium and planets typically form out of a complex cloud of spinning space rubble.
Planets around stars like this must form in a different way.
ALSO: Now is the Best Time to View the Leonid Meteor Shower
The Leonid meteor shower of 2010 is peaking this week and this is the best time to see it.
The annual Leonids should be at their best through November 18th, and with clear skies stargazers should see between 15-20 meteors per hour.
Skywatchers should look toward the constellation Leo in the eastern skies to see “shooting stars.” The best time to see the Leonids is the last 2-3 hours before sunrise, when the moon has set. From the time of moonset until around 5:15AM the sky will be dark and moonless.
The Leonid meteor shower is an annual event that returns every mid-November. The shower is caused by material left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle when is passes near Earth’s orbit during its regular trip through the solar system.
Every 33 years, the Earth encounters a dense knot of material–most recently in 2002–to create dazzling displays of shooting stars. During these times, it can be possible to see hundreds or thousands of meteors per hour. Although not the case this year, it’s still an amazing event to see.
For your best view, get away from city lights. Look for safe, dark sites. If you can see all the stars in the Little Dipper, then you have good dark-adapted vision.
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