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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 September 2007, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Planet survives star's expansion
Artist's impression of V 391 Pegasi b (Helas Consortium)
Inner planets would normally be swallowed up
Astronomers have found a planet that appears to have survived the death throes of its parent star.

V 391 Pegasi b has somehow ridden out the "red giant" phase in which old stars that have exhausted their hydrogen fuel expand outwards.

Inner planets - like V 391 Pegasi b, and perhaps Earth one day - would expect to be consumed in the process.

The newly discovered planet's large size may have been a factor, the team reports in the journal Nature.

Although it orbits at about the same distance from its parent star as Earth does from our Sun, the planet is actually about three times the size of our Jupiter.

The discovery was made by the Whole Earth Telescope (WET) project, a collaboration of academics who use observatories around the world to maintain constant surveillance of space.

Professor Don Kurtz from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), UK, is a member of the 19-strong team.

He said the discovery was a view of the future of Earth: "Our own Sun will undergo a red giant phase in around five billion years' time when Mercury and Venus will be engulfed.

"Our observations show how Earth may withstand the red giant phase of our own Sun. However, it will not be in any fit state for life; it will be much too hot."

V 391 Pegasi b and its parent star are about 4,500 light-years away.

The international research team was led by Roberto Silvotti from the INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy.

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