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Gaia Detects Successfully Its First Planets In A Corner Of The Milky Way Galaxy

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Two new planets have just been found in distant solar systems within the Milky Way galaxy by researchers from Tel Aviv University.

As part of a study conducted in cooperation with teams from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the body’s Gaia spacecraft, they were able to identify the massive planets, known as Gaia-1b and Gaia-2b.

With this news, the Gaia spacecraft has successfully found new planets for the first time. A star-surveying satellite named Gaia is on a mission to map the Milky Way in three dimensions with an unprecedented level of precision that is akin to being on Earth and being able to identify a 10-shekel coin (about the size of a U.S. nickel) on the moon.

The initiative was led by Prof. Shay Zucker, Head of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University (TAU), and doctoral student Aviad Panahi from the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy.

This research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

There Will Be More Breakthroughs Soon

“The discovery of the two new planets,” according to Prof. Zucker, “was made in the wake of precise searches, using methods of artificial intelligence.” They “have also published 40 more candidates we detected by Gaia. The astronomical community,” the professor adds, “will now have to try to corroborate their planetary nature, like we did for the first two candidates.”

The two new planets are called “Hot Jupiters” because they are big and close to their host star. “The measurements we made with the telescope in the U.S. confirmed that these were in fact two giant planets, similar in size to Jupiter in our solar system,” he adds, “and located so close to their suns that they complete an orbit in less than four days,  meaning that each Earth year is comparable to 90 years of that planet.”

Huge Advances in Astronomy

Our solar system is comprised of a total of eight planets. The Milky Way, which comprises an uncountable number of solar systems, contains hundreds of thousands of additional planets.

Since their initial discovery in 1995, astronomers have been studying the planets in distant solar systems in an effort to understand more about our own solar system.

Gaia, which rotates on an axis to carry out its mission, surveys the skies while measuring the positions of around 2 billion suns, stars that make up solar systems, with an accuracy of up to one millionth of a degree.

Gaia tracks the stars’ positions while also measuring their brightness, which is an extremely crucial aspect of observational astronomy because it transmits critical data on the physical properties of celestial bodies nearby.

The discovery was made as a result of changes in the brightness of two far-off stars that were observed.

“The planets were discovered thanks to the fact that they partially hide their suns every time they complete an orbit,” adds Aviad Panahi, “and thus cause a cyclical drop in the intensity of the light reaching us from that distant sun.”

The researchers used tracking measures with the Large Binocular Telescope, one of the biggest telescopes in the world today, located in Arizona, to verify that the celestial objects were, in fact, planets.

The telescope enables observers to monitor minute variations in a star’s motion brought on by the existence of an orbiting planet.

The discovery represents yet another significant step in the Gaia mission’s scientific accomplishments, which have already been credited with a true revolution in the field of astronomy.

Gaia’s potential to discover planets via the partial occultation approach, which needs constant monitoring over a lengthy period of time, has previously been questioned.

The scientific team in charge of this project created an algorithm specifically tailored to Gaia’s properties, and they spent years looking for these signals in the spacecraft’s cumulative databases.

Are there signs of life?

What about the potential for life on those far-off new planets’ surfaces?

According to Panahi, there is little chance of life forming on the newly discovered planets because they are so near to their suns and have extraordinarily high temperatures (around 1,000 degrees Celsius).

However, he continues, “I’m convinced that there are countless others that do have life on them, and it’s reasonable to assume that in the next few years we will discover signs of organic molecules in the atmospheres of remote planets. Most likely we will not get to visit those distant worlds any time soon, but we’re just starting the journey, and it’s very exciting to be part of the search.”

Image Credit: Getty

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