Rare image of a ‘super Jupiter’ gives insight into planetary birth

Astronomers take picture of super-Jupiter.

By Daniel Carrington, The Space Reporter
Monday, November 19, 2012

Rare image of a ‘super Jupiter’ gives insight into planetary birth

Astronomers have captured a rare image of a “super Jupiter,” according to the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. Despite the difficulties in obtaining one, a research team has taken a picture of the gas giant, which is approximately 13 times that mass of Jupiter (the parents star’s mass is approximately 2.5 times the mass of the Sun). Researchers say that the super Jupiter likely formed in a similar way to lower-mass planets (in a “protoplanetary disk” of gas and dust).

The Mac Planck Institute for Astronomy notes that only a few images of the nearly 850 exoplanets, which are known, exist. These planets, which orbits stars other than the Sun, are usually detectable only through indirect methods.

Joseph Carson, of the College of Charleston and Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, took a picture of the super Jupiter which circles the humongous star known as Kappa Andromedae. The star, according to astronomers, is approximately 170 light years away from Earth. Astronomers discovered the super Jupiter using the Subaru telescope in Hawaii.

Astronomers believe that Kappa Andromedae is 30 million years old (which is young compared to our Sun). The team employed advanced instruments and detection methods to grab an image of the super Jupiter.

One major obstacle faced by astronomers was the distance between the super Jupiter and its parent star. The distance between the two is reportedly less than twice the distance between Neptune and the Sun. Astronomers say that most planetary images are obtained for exoplanets which are much further away from their parent star. When objects don’t appear to be independent of each other, it makes it more difficult for astronomers to see that they are two separate objects, especially at great distances.

The super Jupiter has a mass that is 13 times the mass of Jupiter. According to astronomers, the object could be a planet or a small “brown dwarf.” However, astronomers believe that the object is a planet based on the data available to them.

The fact that the planet orbits a young, massive star and that it is relatively close to its parent sun suggests that the super Jupiter formed in a similar manner to that of lower mass planets.

The discovery of the super Jupiter puts to bed any concerns that massive stars could lack the right conditions for conventional star formation. Astronomers worried that this would be the case because large stars discharge a lot of high-energy radiation which could eliminate a significant part of a young protoplanetary disk. This, astronomers argue, could disrupt the normal processes of planetary formation.

Astronomers will be able to complete an in-depth analysis of the super Jupiter’s light using spectroscopy. This information will help astronomers determine the chemical composition of the gas giant’s atmosphere. They will also use this information to determine the exoplanet’s orbital path.

Astronomers will study the super Jupiter to gain additional insight into planetary birth.


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