Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

Make CT Your Homepage

Two Telescopes Cooperate to Detect the Most Distant Planets


(Photo : REUTERS/UKIRT/JAC/SPITZER TELESCOPE/HANDOUT) A combination of observations from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope teamed up with a telescope on Earth to discover one of the most distant planets known to science.

According to Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the gas planet is 13,000 light years away, making it one of the farthest ever discovered.

Like Us on Facebook

The discovery showcases how Spitzer can be used in solving the puzzle of how planets are distributed throughout our flat, spiral-shaped Milky Way galaxy.

"We don't know if planets are more common in our galaxy's central bulge or the disk of the galaxy, which is why these observations are so important," said lead author Jennifer Yee of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and a NASA Sagan fellow.

Apart from Spitzer, astronomers used the Poland-based Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, or OGLE.

OGLE's Warsaw telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile scans the skies for planets using a method called microlensing.

A microlensing event occurs when one star passes in front of another, and its gravity acts as a lens to magnify and brighten the more distant star's light. If that foreground star happens to be orbited by a planet, the planet might cause a blip in the magnification. The microlensing technique can pinpoint the presence of planets, but can't determine their exact location.

"Microlensing experiments are already detecting planets from the solar neighborhood to almost the center of the Milky Way. And so they can, in principle, tell us the relative efficiency of planet formation across this huge expanse of our galaxy," said co-author Andrew Gould of The Ohio State University, Columbus.

Spitzer can provide missing information and give scientists a better idea of the planets' place in space. The technique of two telescopes looking at an object from different vantage points is referred to as parallax.

This lapse between OGLE's and Spitzer's viewing of the planetary event was used to calculate the distance to the star and its planet. Knowing the distance also allowed scientists to determine the mass of the planet, which is about half that of Jupiter.

Spitzer has eyed 22 other microlensing events in collaboration with OGLE and several other ground-based telescopes. While these observations have not turned up new planets, the data is essential to learning the population statistics of stars and planets at the heart of our galaxy. Spitzer will watch some 120 additional microlensing events this summer.

Real Time Analytics