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February 22, 2010

Youngest Extra-Solar Planet Discovered Around Solar-Type Star

Astronomers 've discovered the youngest extra-solar planet around a solar-type star, named BD+20 1790b.
Artistic impression of BD+20 1790b

The giant planet, six-times the mass of Jupiter, is only 35 million years old. It orbits a young active central star at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the Sun. Young stars 're usually excluded from planet searches because they 've intense magnetic fields that generate a range of phenomena known collectively as stellar activity, including flares & spots. This activity can mimic the presence of a companion & so can make extremely difficult to disentangle the signals of planets & activity.

University of Hertfordshire astronomers, Dr. Maria Cruz Gálvez-Ortiz & Dr. John Barnes, 're part of the international collaboration that made the discovery.

Dr. Maria Cruz Gálvez-Ortiz, describing how the planet was discovered, said: "The planet was detected by searching for very small variations in the velocity of the host star, caused by the gravitational tug of the planet as it orbits -- the so-called 'Doppler wobble technique.' Overcoming the interference caused by the activity was a major challenge for the team, but with enough data from an array of large telescopes the planet's signature was revealed."

There is currently a severe lack of knowledge about early stages of planet evolution. Most planet-search surveys tend to target much older stars, with ages in excess of a billion years. Only one young planet, with an age of 100 million years, was previously known. However, at only 35 million years, BD+20 1790b is approximately three times younger. The detection of young planets will allow the testing of formation scenarios & to investigate the early stages of planetary evolution.

BD+20 1790b was discovered using observations made at different telescopes, including the Observatorio de Calar Alto (Almería, Spain) & the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (La Palma, Spain) o'er the last five years. The discovery team is an international collaboration including: M.M. Hernán Obispo, E. De Castro & M. Cornide (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain), M.C. Gálvez-Ortiz & J.R. Barnes, (University of Hertfordshire, U.K.), G. Anglada-Escudé (Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA) & S.R. Kane (NASA Exoplanet Institute, Caltech, USA). 
The discovery has just been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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