Recent images from the Hubble Space Telescope have provided strong evidence that a planet roughly the size of Jupiter circles Beta Pictoris. Detailed images of the inner regions of the 200 billion mile diameter dust disk have revealed an unexpected warp.
"We were surprised to find that the innermost region of the disk is orbiting in a different plane than the rest of the disk." says Chris Burrows of the Hubble Space Telescope Institute. "Such a warp cannot last for very long. "
Burrows surmises that something has to continue to twist the disk and bend it out of shape. He estimates that the planet's mass could be anywhere from 1/20th the mass of Jupiter to 20 times the mass of Jupiter. Other planets smaller than this could exist as well. However, they would be invisible to the Hubble cameras.
This discovery comes on the heels of a virtual wave of extra-solar planet discoveries. First 3 to 4 planets were discovered orbiting a Virgo Pulsar. At least one planet each has been found around Ursa Majoris, 51 Pegasi, and 70 Virginis. The 70 Viriginis discovery is unique in that the position of this planet is conducive to the presence of liquid water.
- By Michael Koller