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The Lowest-Mass Planet Ever Detected Around The Sun-Like Star Detected

6 August, 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - Using infrared data from the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, an international team of astronomers has imaged a giant planet around the bright star GJ 504.

Several times the mass of Jupiter and similar in size, the new world, dubbed GJ 504b, is the lowest-mass planet ever detected around a star like the sun using direct imaging techniques.

"If we could travel to this giant planet, we would see a world still glowing from the heat of its formation with a color reminiscent of a dark cherry blossom, a dull magenta," said Michael McElwain, a member of the discovery team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.



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Glowing a dark magenta, the newly discovered exoplanet GJ 504b weighs in with about four times Jupiter's mass, making it the lowest-mass planet ever directly imaged around a star like the sun. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger


"Our near-infrared camera reveals that its color is much more blue than other imaged planets, which may indicate that its atmosphere has fewer clouds."

GJ 504b orbits its star at nearly nine times the distance Jupiter orbits the sun, which poses a challenge to theoretical ideas of how giant planets form.

GJ 504b lies at a projected distance of 43.5 AU from its star; the actual distance depends on how the system tips to our line of sight, which is not precisely known.

"This is among the hardest planets to explain in a traditional planet-formation framework," explained team member Markus Janson, a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University in New Jersey.

"Its discovery implies that we need to seriously consider alternative formation theories, or perhaps to reassess some of the basic assumptions in the core-accretion theory."

The researchers find that GJ 504b is about four times more massive than Jupiter and has an effective temperature of about 460 degrees Fahrenheit (237 Celsius).



Click on image to enlarge

This composite combines Subaru images of GJ 504 using two near-infrared wavelengths (orange, 1.6 micrometers, taken in May 2011; blue, 1.2 micrometers, April 2012). Once processed to remove scattered starlight, the images reveal the orbiting planet, GJ 504b. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/NOAJ


It orbits the G0-type star GJ 504, which is slightly hotter than the sun and is faintly visible to the unaided eye in the constellation Virgo.



Click on image to enlarge

This chart locates the fifth-magnitude star GJ 504, also known as 59 Virginis, which is visible to the unaided eye from suburban skies. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center


The star lies 57 light-years away and the team estimates the systems is about 160 million years, based on methods that link the star's color and rotation period to it age.

"Our sun is about halfway through its energy-producing life, but GJ504 is only one-thirtieth its age," added McElwain.

"Studying these systems is a little like seeing our own planetary system in its youth."

A paper describing the results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and will appear in a future issue.

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