Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
51 Pegasi B
The official name of the exoplanet is 51 Pegasi b (51 Peg b for short); the 'b' is used to indicate that it is the first companion of its parent star. Further companions would be designated c, d, and so on. It has been informally named 'Bellerophon', after Bellerophon, the Greek hero who tamed a Pegasus (winged horse), referring to the constellation of Pegasus in which the planet is located.
After its discovery, many teams confirmed the planet's existence and obtained more observations of its properties. It was discovered that the planet orbits very close to the star, much closer than Mercury to our Sun, suffering temperatures around 1000 degrees Celsius, and is about half the mass of Jupiter. At the time, the presence of a huge world so close to its star was not compatible with theories of planet formation and was considered an anomaly. However, since then, numerous other 'hot Jupiters' have been discovered (see 55 Cancri and τ Boötis, for example), and astronomers are revising their theories of planet formation to account for them by studying orbital migration .
It was initially assumed that Bellerophon is a terrestrial planet, but it is now known to be a gas giant. It is sufficiently massive that its thick atmosphere is not blown away by the star's solar wind.
Bellerephon probably has a greater radius than Jupiter despite its lower mass. This is because its superheated atmosphere must be puffed up into a thick but tenuous layer surrounding it. Beneath this, the gases that make up the planet would be so hot that the planet would glow red. Clouds of silicates may exist in the atmosphere.
The planet is tidally locked to its star, always presenting the same face to it.
After the announcement, on October 12, 1995, confirmation came from Dr. Geoffrey Marcy from San Francisco State University and Dr. Paul Butler from the University of California, Berkeley using the Hamilton Spectrograph at the Lick Observatory near San Jose in California.
The planet was discovered using a sensitive spectroscope that could detect the slight, regular velocity changes in the star's spectral lines of around 70 metres per second. These changes are caused by the planet's gravitational effects from just 7 million kilometres distance from the star.
This discovery of this first exoplanet established a milestone in astronomical research, as it forced astronomers to realize that giant planets could exist in short period orbits. Once astronomers realized that it was worth looking for giant planets with the currently avaliable technology, much more telescope time was devoted to radial velocity planet searches, and hence many more exoplanets in the Sun's neighbourhood have been discovered.
- Extrasolar planet
- List of stars with confirmed extrasolar planets
- PSR 1257+12, the first star discovered with exoplanets.
- Current Notes from the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia
- Extrasolar Visions: Information and pictures
- Velocity curve and information from the Geneva based Planet Search Team
- Velocity curves and information from the California & Carnegie Planet Search Team
- solstation entry
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