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Nearest extrasolar planet

12:37pm, November 13, 2006

Astronomers have confirmed the existence of the nearest known planet beyond the solar system. The body orbits the young star Epsilon Eridani just 10.5 light-years from Earth, and it's 1.5 times as massive as Jupiter.

The observations, which include measurements taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, also reveal that the planet's orbit has the same tilt as a disk of gas and dust that surrounds the 800-million-year-old star.

The alignment between planet and disk gives fresh support for the long-held notion that debris disks spawn planets, say G. Fritz Benedict and Barbara McArthur of the University of Texas in Austin and their colleagues. They report their findings in the November Astronomical Journal.

Six years ago, McArthur observed a subtle back-and-forth motion of Epsilon Eridani. But that indirect evidence of a planet's gravity indicated only what the minimum mass of the orbiting body would be. That evidence also left open the possibility that astronomer

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