ESA’s Gaia spacecraft detects Jupiter-like planets for the 1st time; scientists elated

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Astronomers are over the Moon as they’ve found out the map-making Gaia spacecraft can also act as a planet spotter. Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to make the most detailed 3D map of the Milky Way, Gaia has recently discovered two Jupiter-like new exoplanets. This discovery was made through research that was led by the Tel Aviv University experts in collaboration with ESA scientists. 

The identified planets have been named Gaia-1b and Gaia-2b and were spotted using different methods involving artificial intelligence. “We have also published 40 more candidates we detected by Gaia. The astronomical community will now have to try to corroborate their planetary nature as we did for the first two candidates”, Shay Zucker, co-author of the research and head of Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, said in an official statement.

About the newly discovered exoplanets

The new planets have been referred to as “hot Jupiters” and the measurements about the planet were made using the Large Binocular Telescope installed in Arizona. According to the findings, which were published in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the two exoplanets are giant and are similar in size to Jupiter in our solar system. However, they both orbit their respective star in an extremely tight orbit and one year on both planets lasts less than four days. The experts say that each year on our planet Earth is similar to around 90 years on Gaia-1b and Gaia-2b.

How were the planets discovered?

The planets were discovered after Gaia was repurposed to observe the transit of planets when they cross the face of their stars. Notably, Gaia is a star-surveying satellite which makes it easier to observe stars and notice dips in starlight. The common method of finding exoplanets is to notice periodic dips in the light emerging from a star, a phenomenon that is caused due to an orbiting exoplanet. The process of noticing transits also enables scientists to estimate the size of the planet’s orbit; as more frequent the dips, the closer the planet is to its star. 

To confirm that the dips were indeed being caused by Gaia-1b and Gaia-2b, the astronomers used the Large Binocular Telescope which helps to track small fluctuations in a star’s movement. “Gaia’s ability to discover planets via the partial occultation method, which generally requires continuous monitoring over a long period of time, has been doubted up to now”, the experts said in their statement. “The research team charged with this mission developed an algorithm specially adapted to Gaia’s characteristics, and searched for years for these signals in the cumulative databases from the spaceship”.



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