From Carnegie: “Hunting for giant planet analogs in our own backyard”

Carnegie Institution for Science
Carnegie Institution for Science

March 01, 2017

There may be a large number of undetected bright, substellar objects similar to giant exoplanets in our own solar neighborhood, according to new work from a team led by Carnegie’s Jonathan Gagné and including researchers from the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) at Université de Montréal. It is published by The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

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An artist’s conception of a free-floating planet analog courtesy of NASA/JPL.

Recent studies of an association of stars called TW Hya have revealed some of the first known isolated giant planet-sized objects in the neighborhood of our own Sun, about 100 light years away.

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TW Hydrae protoplanetary disk (NASA / ESA / J. Debes, STScI / H. Jang-Condell, University of Wyoming / A. Weinberger, Carnegie Institution of Washington / A. Roberge, Goddard Space Flight Center / G. Schneider, University of Arizona, Steward Observatory / A. Feild, STScI, AURA)

This group contains a few dozen 10-million-year-old stars, all moving together through space.

In order to determine whether or not there are more stand-alone planetary mass-sized objects like these in the TW Hya association, Gagné and his team undertook the calculation of an astronomical measurement called the initial mass function. This function can be used to determine the distribution of mass in the group and to predict the number of undiscovered objects that might exist inside of it.

“The initial mass function of TW Hya had never been published before,” Gagné said.

In the process of this analysis, the team was able to determine that there are probably many more objects between five and seven times the mass of Jupiter in the association that haven’t been discovered yet.

“The TW Hya association extends out to a distance of ~250 light years, but our instruments aren’t sensitive enough yet to detect giant planets-like members at this distance, hence many of them might remain to be discovered,” Gagné added.

This work was supported in part through grants from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the NASA NExSS program.

See the full article here .

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Andrew Carnegie established a unique organization dedicated to scientific discovery “to encourage, in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research, and discovery and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind…” The philosophy was and is to devote the institution’s resources to “exceptional” individuals so that they can explore the most intriguing scientific questions in an atmosphere of complete freedom. Carnegie and his trustees realized that flexibility and freedom were essential to the institution’s success and that tradition is the foundation of the institution today as it supports research in the Earth, space, and life sciences.

6.5 meter Magellan Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.
6.5 meter Magellan Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile

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