May 30, 2009

The First Exoplanet of Astrometry: VB 10b

The planet-hunting technique called Astrometry has finally snagged it's first catch -- a Jupiter-like planet called VB 10b, orbiting a small star.
Astrometry involves measuring the motions of a star as an unseen planet tugs the star back and forth. This technique has been in the list of planet-hunting methods for quite a while now. Actually, since around 1950's that several claims of exoplanets discoveries were made using this technique. But only now has it's first discovery been verified.
It has taken 12 years for VB 10b's discoverers, Pravdo and Shaklan--to finally announce the existence of an exoplanet orbiting a dim M-Dwarf star located 20 light-years away in the constellation Aquila.
This finding may mean that astrometry could be a powerful planet-hunting technique for both ground- and space-based telescopes. It may also enliven the amateur planet-hunting community involved with this technique using CCDs.
The discovery is very exciting. It has elicited wonderful remarks from the scientists active in the field. The chief scientist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL said that this "is a hint that nature likes to form planets, even around stars very different from the Sun". And Steven Pravdo himself says that "this could mean planets are more common than we thought."
And it continues to ring in my ears: Nature likes to form planets, they are more common than we thought.