Saturday, May 30, 2009

VB 10: Tiny Star, Big Planet, Exciting Possibilities

"Discovery: Even Tiny Stars Have Planets " (May 28, 2009)

"A Jupiter-like planet has been discovered orbiting one of the smallest stars known, suggesting that planets could be more common than previously thought.

"This exoplanet finding is the first discovery for a long-proposed tool for hunting planets, called astrometry.

" 'This is an exciting discovery because it shows that planets can be found around extremely lightweight stars,' said Wesley Traub, the chief scientist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. 'This is a hint that nature likes to form planets, even around stars very different from the sun.'..."

The article briefly describes astrometry, a half-century-old planet spotting technique. The author is right: until now, the technique hadn't identified a real exoplanet. I remember, though, that it turned up a few false positives: including a rather famous one involving Barnard's Star.

This is a pretty good look at an exciting development in the hunt for new worlds. What's special about the VB 10 system is that it shows that very low-mass stars can have planets. And, since there are a great many low-mass stars out there, that ups the odds that we'll find another rocky planet with liquid water - eventually.
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