Gaia star-mapping spacecraft spots a pair of Jupiter-like planets

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Gaia scientists are thrilled after discovering that the stargazing spacecraft can double as a planet hunter.

On an early mission, the longtime star surveyor spotted two Jupiter-sized planets in a distant location in the galaxy. The discovery was confirmed with the Large Binocular Telescope, in Arizona, and reveals that the spacecraft can serve as an observer for extraterrestrial worlds.

The European Space Agency‘s Gaia, since she can see bright objects at a distance, has been repurposed to examine a planet’s transits through its parent star. The researchers used artificial intelligence to scour the spacecraft’s archives for telltale dips in light that occur when a planet temporarily eclipses its stellar companion.

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This review has certainly paid off. “The discovery of the two new planets was made as a result of precise research, using artificial intelligence methods,” said co-author Shay Zucker, director of the University’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. of Tel Aviv, in a statement announcing the discovery (opens in a new tab).

Zucker added that there are other candidates to consider. “We have also published 40 other candidates that we have detected by Gaia. The astronomical community will now have to try to corroborate their planetary nature, as we did for the first two candidates.”

The two planets found were similar in size to Jupiter. (Image credit: NASA)

The two new planets, named Gaia-1b and Gaia-2b, are called “hot Jupiters” because the gas giants orbit extremely close to their host stars. Each orbits its stellar companion in just four days, the researchers said.

Confirmed planets and dozens of suspected planets show a value-added moment in Gaia’s stargazing capabilities. Despite its precise ability to trace the motions of stars and their variations in brightness, the discovery of much smaller and fainter planets “has been in doubt until now,” the statement said.

A map showing the distribution of interstellar dust in our galaxy, the Milky Way, based on measurements from the European Gaia mission. (Image credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Although the worlds do not support life as we know it, researchers have suggested that Gaia, in collaboration with other observatories, will be able to unearth more information about distant worlds and that Gaia’s capabilities in this area are just beginning. As such, it is difficult to predict at this time how Gaia will contribute to the ongoing search for new planets and characterization of their potential habitability.

A study based on the research was published in May in Astronomy & Astrophysics (opens in a new tab). It was led by Tel Aviv doctoral student Aviad Panahi, from the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics & Astronomy.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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