Using a superpowerful telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile -- part of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) -- a team of international astronomers has just identified a planet with a "very similar mass to Jupiter" orbiting a sunlike star called HIP 11915. What's more, the Jupiter-like planet is almost exactly the same distance from its star as Jupiter itself is from ours. And HIP 11915 is also about the same age as our sun.
This could all mean that the team has discovered what could be "a complete Solar System 2.0," to quote Jorge Melendez, of the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, who was the leader of the team and co-author of a paper in Astronomy and Astrophysics (PDF) that details the findings.
Finding a Jupiter-like planet so far from its central sun is unusual, as such gas giants are usually found much closer in.
In a theory released earlier this year (and reported by Space.com), a team of astronomers postulated that the planet Jupiter was a critical component in the formation of our solar system. They say that Jupiter might have acted as a sort of wrecking ball that first swung in toward the sun, helping form the inner rocky planets from the debris it left in its wake, and then swung back out as it was pulled by Saturn's gravity.
Therefore, identifying another solar system with the same basic setup between a sun and a Jupiterish planet could be a good sign. In fact, according to an ESO statement about the research, HIP 11915 "is one of the most promising candidates so far to host a planetary system similar to our own." It's also located 186 light years away from Earth, so if it does wind up having life like ours, it'll be quite a jaunt to go see our interstellar cousins.
In making their discovery, the astronomers used the planet-hunting tool known as HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) on the ESO 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla. They determined the planet's existence by observing the wobble it creates on its host star as it revolves around it. The ESO says that more observations will be conducted to "confirm and constrain" the discovery.