Like its twin sister, it is three thousand times more massive and sixteen times larger than the Earth. The young planetary system of which it is a part could look like what our world was supposed to be just after its formation.

Dessin d’artiste datant du 6 mars 2014, d’après les observations de Bêta Pictoris.

It is three thousand times more massive, and nearly sixteen times larger than the Earth. A new giant planet has been unearthed around the young star Beta Pictoris, which shines 63.4 light years from Earth, according to a study published Monday, August 19 in the journal Nature Astronomy.

This is the second time that Anne-Marie Lagrange’s team, a researcher at the Centre national de recherche scientifique (CNRS) at the Institut de planétologie et d’astrophysique de Grenoble, has discovered a giant planet in this global system. The first, spotted in 2009, was named Beta Pictoris B. This “little sister, almost a twin”, logically takes the name Beta Pictoris C, Anne-Marie Lagrange explained to Agence France-Presse. According to scientists, both planets are still being formed.

Radial velocity” method

Visible to the naked eye and long known for its fast rotation, the star Beta Pictoris became famous in the 1980s. It is indeed it that allowed astronomers to obtain the first image of a disc of dust and gas surrounding a star, a remnant of the primitive cloud that gave birth to it.

Moreover, the planetary system of which it is a part, which is about twenty million years old – not much older than the 4.6 billion years of the Solar System – could resemble what our world should have been just after its formation. “This planetary system is undoubtedly the best way to understand their early formation and evolution,” explains Anne-Marie Lagrange, the main author of the study published in Nature Astronomy.

Beta Pictoris C was detected indirectly by the Harps spectrograph (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), a planetary hunter from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) based in Chile. The researchers used the so-called “radial velocity” method, which consists in detecting in the spectrum of a star the disturbances caused by the presence of a celestial body around it.

Eight hours of daylight

The researchers were able to determine that Beta Pictoris C, located between its star and its big sister, orbits relatively close to Beta Pictoris, which it circles in about one thousand two hundred days. But according to the study, “more data will be needed to obtain more accurate estimates”.

According to research published in 2014, Beta Pictoris B orbits its host star at a distance equivalent to eight times the distance between Earth and the Sun and rotates at least 100,000 km/hour, almost sixty times faster than the Earth. The duration of the day does not exceed eight hours.

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