Faraway Planets Orbiting Distance Stars

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Posible Planet Outside Of Our Solar System

The Hubble Space Telescope may have captured the first actual image of a planet outside our own Solar System. The giant gassy body appears to be double or triple the mass of the known planet Jupiter, and about 450 lightyears from Earth. It is seen in the constellation Taurus in Earth's sky. A lightyear is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

Astronomers call the object TMR-1C. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says the possible planet is near a newly-forming binary star system. A binary star system consists of two stars very close together and orbiting each other. TMR-1C looks like it is at the end of a filament of light, as if it were flung out into the Milky Way galaxy by a young pair of binary stars.

The object's age could exclude it as a planet. If it's only a few hundred thousand years old, about the same age as the star system it came from, that would indicate the object could be a planet. But, if the object is much older than the star system near it, -- for instance, ten million years old or older, the object probably would be classified as a brown dwarf, which is a star that was unable to maintain nuclear fusion. Astronomers say the chances of it brown dwarf are slight.

Astronomers have detected eight possible planets outside our solar system since 1995. Before TMR-1C, none had been seen. In previous planet discoveries, astronomers based their conclusions on the behavior of surrounding stars. A planet's gravitational pull can make a star orbited by the planet wobble.

If the finding is confirmed, TMR-1C will be the most important discovery Hubble has made to date. Without highly sophisticated satellites like Hubble, astronomers would not be able to peer at very distant star systems to learn more about the mysteries of space. The Hubble Space Telescope is a satellite orbiting Earth and peering out into the cosmos.

NASA spokespersons suggested, "The conclusion from those studies ... suggest that the formation of solar systems, or solar system-like objects, are a common outcome, or perhaps an inevitable outcome of the process that forms stars."

Discoverer Susan Terebey of the Extrasolar Research Corp. of Pasadena, California, described TMR-1C as a candidate young planet. TMR-1C seems to indicate giant gas planets probably can be formed by binary stars. It doesn't tell us directly about the existence of distant terrestrial planets like Earth, however, gas giant planets are thought to influence the formation of smaller rocky planets like Earth.

Learn more:
Introduction to Planet Hunting
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