Since the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1992, astronomers have found nearly 2000, many of which are Jupiter sized. But there’s something special about the latest one found; it is orbiting at almost the same distance around its star as Jupiter is around our sun. But that’s not all, the parent star, named HIP 11915, is almost exactly the same size as the sun.
According to scientists, the gravitational influence of Jupiter was important in the early years of our solar system. It is believed that Jupiter stabilized the inner solar system allowing Earth to have a stable orbit. This discovery is very important in the search for a second solar system like ours. The location of the Jupiter size planet coupled with the size and age of the star suggest that the same process that acted on our solar system may have acted on this one. This would mean the potential for rocky earth sized planets closer in, perhaps even in the habitable zone.
The star, HIP 11915 is not only almost exactly the same size as the sun but it is also about the same age. This planetary system was found using the 3.6 metre ESO telescope in Chile. This planet was discovered with HARPS technology that measures slight shifts in a stars spectrum that are caused by a planet.
Megen Bedell of the University of Chicago and lead author of the study said: “After two decades of hunting for exoplanets, we are finally beginning to see long-period gas giant planets similar to those in our own Solar System thanks to the long-term stability of planet hunting instruments like HARPS. This discovery is, in every respect, an exciting sign that other solar systems may be out there waiting to be discovered.”
We are living proof that the arrangement of our solar system was favourable to life to start in at least one location. Little do people know, Jupiter, which is the largest planet in our solar system, is one of the reasons for this. Its large mass acted as a shepherd of meteorites greatly reducing the number of impacts on Earth. This is another reason this discovery is important.
While it is unlikely we will find an Earth twin in this planetary system, there is probably a good chance that there are planets of similar size in the inner part of the system. HIP 11915 and its Jupiter mass planet is the most promising candidate in the hunt for other systems like ours that could support habitable planets.