Astronomers discover enormous Jupiter-like gas giant 96 light years away

A respected team of international scientists that includes Travis Barman and Katie Morzinski from the University of Arizona has discovered an enormous gas giant exoplanet just 96 light-years from Earth that resembles a bigger, younger version of our own stormy-eyed Jupiter.  Named 51 Eridani b, this bloated, methane-rich behemoth was spotted by the Gemini South Telescope in Cerro Pachon, Chile, and is estimated to be 600 times the mass of Earth and twice that of Jupiter. 

Cerro Pachon's 27-foot telescope is a sister telescope to the Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii, and is coupled with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), a sophisticated new planet-hunting instrument that detects and photographs infrared emissions from distant heavenly bodies.  51 Eridani b is the first exoplanet detected by this amazing new tool and orbits a sun-like star system calculated to be just 20 million years old, compared to our more ancient solar system of a mature 4.6 billion years.

Barman, co-author of the study published in the online journal Science commented on the discovery and its importance to understanding how gas giants in our solar system formed and cooled over time.

The planet's methane-rich atmosphere makes 51 Eridani b more "Jupiter-like" than any other exoplanet scientists have discovered.  51 Eri b is the first young planet that probably looks like Jupiter did billions of years ago, making it currently our most important corner-piece of the planet formation jigsaw puzzle. The current properties of 51 Eri b may hold a record of its formation history, and future studies of its atmosphere will hopefully unlock new information about planet formation in general.

How do you like our new distant neighbor, and what do you think the significance of this XXL find might be?

(Via USA Today)

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