Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gas giant planet discovered near the Milky Way's bulge

Using the gravitational microlensing technique, astronomers have recently detected what appears to be a Saturn-like planet residing near the Milky Way's bulge. The newly discovered exoplanet has a mass somewhere between Saturn and Jupiter and is orbiting a star with half the mass of the sun. A paper detailing the finding was published online on Mar. 21 on the arXiv pre-print server.

If a star moves in front of an another star, the light from the distant star is bent by the gravitational pull of the nearer star and the more distant star is magnified. Microlensing does not rely on the light from the host stars; thus, it can detect planets, even when the host stars cannot be detected. This technique is very useful for detecting alien worlds in the inner galactic disk and bulge, where it is difficult to search for planets with other methods.

An international team of researchers, led by Aparna Bhattacharyaha of the University of Notre Dame used the gravitational microlensing method to detect a gas giant planet orbiting the lens stars of a microlensing event. This gravity lens, discovered in August 2014, was designated OGLE-2014-BLG-1760 and is the 1,760th microlensing event detected by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) collaboration. OGLE is a Polish astronomical project based at the University of Warsaw, searching for dark matter and extrasolar planets. It utilizes the 1.3 meter Warsaw telescope mounted at the Las Campanas observatory in Chile.

Follow-up observations were carried out by the Microlensing Observation in Astrophysics (MOA) collaboration, the Microlensing Follow-Up Network (μFUN) and the RoboNet project. MOA uses the 1.8 meter MOA-II telescope at the Mount John Observatory at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, while μFUN and RoboNet are global groups employing a network of telescopes worldwide.

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