CofC professor discovers new worlds with international team - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

CofC professor discovers new worlds with international team

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Artist's conception of GJ 504b (Courtesy: NASA) Artist's conception of GJ 504b (Courtesy: NASA)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration calls it the "lowest-mass planet ever detected around a star like the sun."

The pretty pink planet, dubbed GJ 504b, is part of the GJ 504 star system and is the latest discovery from an international team of scientists including College of Charleston Assistant Professor Joe Carson.

"The discovery of GJ 504b is particularly exciting in part because the planet orbits a star that is very similar to our own Sun, in terms of star mass and temperature," said Carson. "In a sense, we are seeing a twin of our own Sun, complete with its own Jupiter-like planet. This interesting property combines with the fact that the discovered planet is the coldest and lowest mass planet ever imaged around a sun-like star. Discoveries like this help bring us closer to imaging complete analogs of our own solar system, along with observed conditions that may be favorable for the development of life."

The research Carson is doing is part of the Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS), a project to image extrasolar planets (planets not in our solar system) and protoplanetary disks around several hundred nearby stars.

They do this using the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Most of the 715 exoplanet systems reported so far have been discovered by indirect observation techniques but  direct imaging yields the most complete information about the planet's luminosity, temperature, atmosphere and orbit.  

According to NASA, researchers found that GJ 504b is about four times more massive than Jupiter and has an effective temperature of about 460 degrees Fahrenheit (237 Celsius).

Their direct imaging method is challenging because distant planets are not on only faint, but also close to their bright central stars.  Because of this, only a handful of exoplanets have ever been successfully imaged.

NASA officials say a paper describing the results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and will appear in a future issue.

This is not the first time Carson has been involved in the discovery of a planet.  Last year Carson and two CofC undergraduate students led the direct imaging discovery of another new extrasolar planet.

"I feel very lucky to be able to help open a window onto new worlds," says Carson. " It is also exciting to know that these discoveries are just the beginning. Our vision of the universe around us, and the planets that inhabit it, are expanding almost every day."

To learn more about Prof. Carson and his CofC research team, click here.

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