Nature is full of twins, and looks like planets have them too. Scientists recently discovered Jupiter and the sun share the same galaxy as their very own doppelgängers. Interestingly, ‘HIP 11915’ – the sun-like star that not only resembles the sun, it also shares the same mass and even the same age. And the same goes for a Jupiter’s twin – what are the odds? The finding is highly fascinating because it implicates that there could be possibility of Earth-like planets out there.
“After two decades of hunting for exoplanets, we are finally beginning to see long-period gas giant planets similar to those in our own solar system thanks to the long-term stability of planet hunting instruments like HARPS,” said Megan Bedell, from the University of Chicago, study collaborator and lead author of the paper. “This discovery is, in every respect, an exciting sign that other solar systems may be out there waiting to be discovered.”
Astronomers already know that Jupiter is well known to be the gravitational powerhouse of our solar system. The solar system was once a violent and highly tumultuous place, but the gravitational heft of Jupiter stabilized the inner solar system, making it a conducive environment to form Earth in a stable orbit inside our sun’s habitable zone.
Current theories also suggest that Jupiter had a huge part to play in “vacuuming” the inner solar system, clearing many errant asteroids and comets from slamming into a nascent Earth. This had the effect of allowing life to gain a foothold on our planet, throttling the number of extinction-level impacts. In short, Jupiter was the superhero saving Earth.
“The quest for an Earth 2.0, and for a complete Solar System 2.0, is one of the most exciting endeavors in astronomy,” said Jorge Melendez, of the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, leader of the study and co-author of a paper to appear in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The astronomers used the powerful HARPS instrument – mounted on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope – at the La Silla Observatory in Chile to spot the orbiting Jupiter-like world. HARPS uses the radial velocity method to tease out the slight wobble caused by the gravitational tugging of exoplanets on their parent stars. By deriving the frequency of the wobbles, astronomers can accurately calculate a planet’s mass, it’s orbital distance and period.