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| Space on Mar 14, 2008

Rory Barnes successfully predicts distant planet

HD 74156 is a distant planetary system that seemed to have a large gap between two known planets. Astronomer Rory Barnes predicted a planet there and thus become the first to find a planet outside our solar system by predicting its location in advance. That hasn’t happened since astronomers found Neptune in our own solar system in the year 1846.

Astronomer Rory Barnes at the University of Arizona has become the first to find a planet outside our solar system by predicting its location in advance.

That hasn’t happened since astronomers found Neptune in our own solar system in the year 1846. Barnes said more planets will be found orbiting distant stars as long as there’s room for them to form.

Rory Barnes: The idea is when you start predicting where planets are, you start to understand how they formed. And, when we start trying to think about how are we going to find planets around other stars – hopefully planets with life – we need some sort of concept of how they got there, so that we know where to look.

Barnes had noticed that planets are packed together as closely as possible without destabilizing their orbits.

Rory Barnes: They behave similar to our own solar system. That is to say, that our system teeters on this edge of instability – well, so do these other ones. So we’re seeing commonalities between our system and others.

He looked at a system called HD 74156, which seemed to have a large gap between two known planets. Barnes predicted a planet there. Other astronomers later found it. Barnes said he believes many stars have their own planets.

Rory Barnes: There is another system we’ve already predicted. We need to find that this planet is in that system, and hopefully they’ll be finding it soon. I know a lot of people are now going to start really looking hard for it.

Our thanks to:
Rory Barnes
Postdoctoral Researcher
Lunar and Planetary Lab
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona