Astronomers at Warwick Uni discover a space monster - The Solihull Observer

Astronomers at Warwick Uni discover a space monster

Solihull Editorial 5th Jun, 2017   0

EAGLE-EYED astronomers ‘may’ have discovered a giant gas planet hurtling around a star more than 1,000 light years away from Earth.

An international team of astronomers led by University of Warwick believe that a gas planet – up to 50 times the mass of Jupiter and encircled by a ring of dust – is orbiting a star.

Hugh Osborn, a researcher from Warwick’s Astrophysics Group, has identified the light from this rare young star is regularly blocked by a large object and predicts the eclipses are caused by the orbit of this as-yet undiscovered planet.

Osborn and fellow researchers from Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, and Leiden Observatory analysed 15 years of the star’s activity, using data from the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) and Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT).

The Warwick researcher said: “We found a hint that this was an interesting object in data from the WASP survey, but it wasn’t until we found a second, almost identical eclipse in the KELT survey data that we knew we had something special.”

The star is referred to as PDS 110 in the Orion constellation and is the same temperature and slightly larger than our sun.

The astronomers discovered every two and a half years the light from this star is reduced to 30 per cent for about two to three weeks – with two notable eclipses identified in November 2008 and January 2011.

Leiden astronomer Matthew Kenworthy said: “What’s exciting is that during both eclipses we see the light from the star change rapidly, and that suggests that there are rings in the eclipsing object, but these rings are many times larger than the rings around Saturn.”

The next eclipse is predicted to take place in September this year – assuming the dips in starlight are coming from an orbiting planet.

Only then will researchers be certain what is causing the mysterious eclipses.

These eclipses could be used to discover the conditions for forming planets and their moons at an early time in the life of a star – providing a unique insight into forming processes that happened in our solar system.

It is also expected the star will be bright enough for amateur astronomers to witness it and gather new data.

If confirmed in September, PDS 110 will be the first giant ring system with a known orbital period.

Osborn said: “September’s eclipse will let us study the intricate structure around PDS 110 in detail for the first time, and hopefully prove that what we are seeing is a giant exoplanet and its moons in the process of formation.”

The team has also suggested moons could be forming in the habitable zone around PDS 110 – pointing to the possibility that life could thrive in this system.

The research ‘Periodic Eclipses of the Young Star PDS 110 Discovered with WASP and KELT Photometry’ is due to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Buy Photos

Buy photos online from the Solihull Observer newspaper.

Online Editions

Catch up on your local news by reading our e-editions on the Solihull Observer.


Find a career you'll love with our free career finder website.

Business Directory

From plumbers, to restaurants, we can provide you with all the info you need.