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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jupiter-Like Planet Spied By Scientists

LONDON -- Astronomers scanning southern skies in search of distant solar systems have discovered a Jupiter-like planet 100 light years away circling a star similar to our own sun.

The planet -- the 100th to be found outside our solar system -- was found by a team of astronomers using the British-Australian Telescope in New South Wales.

"Now our searches have become precise enough to find many planets in orbits like those in our solar system; we are seeing clues which may help us understand how planets are formed," British team leader Hugh Jones said.

Jones said it was another step forward in the search for planetary systems similar to Earth's that might eventually reveal whether mankind is indeed alone in the universe.

The new planet has a mass similar to that of Jupiter and circles its star, Taul Gruis, in the Grus or Crane constellation once every four years.

The new planet is three times as far away from its star as the Earth is from the Sun.

Grus -- which has also in the past been known as Phoenicopterus or Flamingo -- was named by astronomer Johann Bayer in his 1603 star atlas.

It is about 100 light years from Earth and at one time was part of the Piscis Austrinus constellation.

Jones, of Liverpool's John Moores University, said the new planet added to the theory that solar systems like that of the Earth -- in which planets are strung out in a line from their star with larger ones farther away -- are in the majority.

What was needed now was to fine-tune the search from outside the disturbance of the Earth's atmosphere to find systems where there were smaller planets with closer orbits to their stars.

He said astronomers were seeing a pattern for systems to be of two types: those with high-mass planets close to their star and others with high-mass planets orbiting much farther out.

"This Taul Gruis planet is in the second group, which is in the majority. Why are there these two groups? We hope the theorists will be able to explain this," he said.

To find evidence of planets, scientists use a high-precision technique that watches for stars that appear to wobble because of the effect of an associated planet's gravitational pull.

The wobble can be detected by the so-called Doppler shift it causes in the star's light, indicating the presence of a planet. This is then fine-tuned to assess its distance and mass.

The goal of the study is to find planetary systems that mirror Earth's.

Scientists say that the more such systems are discovered, the better they will be able to assess the Earth's place in the galaxy.

"These are very important first steps we are making to compile a shopping list of potential analogues to our own solar system for study by future space missions," Jones said.

"The step beyond that is to look for life -- evidence of carbon, carbon dioxide, ozone -- but first you need your target list," he added.