A long-proposed tool for hunting planets has netted its first catch — a Jupiter-like planet orbiting one of the smallest stars known.
The technique, called astrometry, was first attempted 50 years ago to search for planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets. It involves measuring the precise motions of a star on the sky as an unseen planet tugs the star back and forth. But the method requires very precise measurements over long periods of time, and until now, has failed to turn up any exoplanets.
A team of two astronomers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has, for the past 12 years, been mounting an astrometry instrument to a telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego. After careful, intermittent observations of 30 stars, the team has identified a new exoplanet around one of them — the first ever to be discovered around a star using astrometry.