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Astronomers find new planet in Earth's 'backyard'

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  • Jeroen Kumeling
    Astronomers find new planet in Earth s backyard 1998 image showing dust disk surrounding Epsilon Eridani. The star itself is represented by the white star at
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2000
      Astronomers find new planet in Earth's 'backyard'

      1998 image showing dust disk surrounding Epsilon Eridani. The star itself is
      represented by the white star at center

      August 4, 2000
      Web posted at: 4:48 p.m. EDT (2048 GMT)

      LONDON (Reuters) -- A team of international astronomers said Friday they had
      discovered a new planet, possibly bigger than Jupiter, in a nearby solar
      system. The yet-to-be-named planet orbits the star Epsilon Eridani, the
      closest star to Earth that has a circling planet.

      "Detecting a planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani -- a star very similar to our
      own sun -- is like finding a planet in our own backyard," team leader
      William Cochran said in a statement.

      "Not only is this planet nearby, it lies 478 million kilometers (297 million
      miles) from its central star -- roughly the distance from the sun to the
      asteroid belt in our own solar system," the astronomer at the University of
      Texas McDonald Observatory in Austin added.

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      The distance between the planet and its star opens up the possibility that
      there could be Earth-like planets closer to Epsilon Eridani -- in a zone
      that Cochran said might be habitable. The team will announce the discovery
      at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly Monday when
      2000 astronomers from 87 countries converge on the northern English city for
      the 11-day meeting.

      They estimate that the new planet, one of several expected to be announced
      during the assembly, is bigger than Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar
      system.

      It is made up mostly of gas and its eccentric orbit lasts just under seven
      years, about 60 percent as long as Jupiter's.

      Astronomers consider stable orbits, like those of the Earth and other nearby
      planets, an important factor in the development of life.

      "The exciting thing about this discovery is that having a large planet
      orbiting fairly far out from Epsilon Eridani means there could be room for
      Earth-like planets in a reasonably stable orbit closer to the star," Cochran
      explained.

      The astronomers found the planet using data sets from four different
      telescopes with three different measuring techniques.

      Because Epsilon Eridani is so bright and one of the 10 nearest star systems
      it is easily detectable, and can be seen with the naked eye.

      "You can go outside at night, even in Austin, and point at it and say that
      star there has a planet around it," Cochran added.

      The new planet is the 41st to be discovered outside our solar system
      recently. Three others were found by the University of Texas University team
      in Austin.

      The general assembly of the Paris-based IAU will feature 500 talks and
      presentations. The meeting is held every three years.
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