A new planetary system - and it looks like home

June 26, 2002

A new planetary system - and it looks like home

Brussels, 25 June 2002

Scientists from the Anglo-Australian Planet Search team, in collaboration with American astronomers from the Keck and Lick Planet Search teams, say they have found a planetary system resembling our own solar system.

British and Australian astronomers announced last week their discovery of four new extrasolar planets using the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope located in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Meanwhile, US astronomers from the Lick Observatory in California and Keck Telescope in Hawaii announced during a NASA conference last week that they have found 13 new planets. One planet discovered by the US team stands out. Going by the name 55 Cancri, it is a Jupiter-like star located in the constellation Cancer. Geoffrey Marcy, Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, said: "This is the first near analogue to our Jupiter. All other extrasolar planets discovered up to now orbit closer to the parent star."

Finding Earth's cousins

Data collected on the 55 Cancri was passed on to Greg Laughlin, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, for further analysis. His research confirms the likeness between our solar system and the constellation Cancer. "Just as other planets in our solar system tug on the Earth and produce chaotic but bounded orbit, so the planets around 55 Cancri would push and pull an Earth-like planet," said Mr Laughlin. But he cautions against hasty presumptions that such planets would host life. The UK team are more upbeat about the discoveries. Dr Allan Penny of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory said he was especially looking forward to being able to compare the new planetary system with our own solar system in his work with the European Space Agency's Eddington mission, recently announced for a 2007-8 launch.

The long-term goal of these programmes is to uncover comparable systems to our own solar system. The discovery of other such planets and planetary satellites within the next decade will help astronomers assess our place in the galaxy and whether planetary systems like our own are common or rare. The recent discoveries are a major step towards this goal.

Source: Anglo-Australian Observatory, AlphaGalileo

Contact: hsim@aaoepp.aao.gov.au

More information: http://www.aao.gov.au/local/www/cgt/pla net/aat.html

DG Research
http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/research/ index en.html

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