Discovery and spectroscopy of the young jovian planet 51 Eri b with the Gemini Planet Imager

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Science  02 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6256, pp. 64-67
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac5891

An exoplanet extracted from the bright

Direct imaging of Jupiter-like exoplanets around young stars provides a glimpse into how our solar system formed. The brightness of young stars requires the use of next-generation devices such as the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI). Using the GPI, Macintosh et al. discovered a Jupiter-like planet orbiting a young star, 51 Eridani (see the Perspective by Mawet). The planet, 51 Eri b, has a methane signature and is probably the smallest exoplanet that has been directly imaged. These findings open the door to understanding solar system origins and herald the dawn of a new era in next-generation planetary imaging.

Science, this issue p. 64; see also p. 39


Directly detecting thermal emission from young extrasolar planets allows measurement of their atmospheric compositions and luminosities, which are influenced by their formation mechanisms. Using the Gemini Planet Imager, we discovered a planet orbiting the ~20-million-year-old star 51 Eridani at a projected separation of 13 astronomical units. Near-infrared observations show a spectrum with strong methane and water-vapor absorption. Modeling of the spectra and photometry yields a luminosity (normalized by the luminosity of the Sun) of 1.6 to 4.0 × 10−6 and an effective temperature of 600 to 750 kelvin. For this age and luminosity, “hot-start” formation models indicate a mass twice that of Jupiter. This planet also has a sufficiently low luminosity to be consistent with the “cold-start” core-accretion process that may have formed Jupiter.

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