Astronomers have for the first time made detailed measurements of an exoplanet in the temperate zone around its star. Their conclusion: It looks a lot like a planet in our solar system.

Astronomers have discovered a Jupiter-size planet that orbits its host star at a Mercury-like distance – a solar system that begins to look like a topsy-turvy, Alice in Wonderland version of our own.

The discovery has allowed scientists to glean for the first time a wide range of information about an extrasolar planet so relatively distant from its “sun.”

It opens the door to detailed studies of gas giants in the temperate zone around stars – the single largest group of exoplanets scientists have found so far, and a class of planets that begins look more familiar to Earth-bound eyes.

The planet, CoRoT-9b, “can start to tell us more about exoplanets which may be more akin to the giant planets in our solar system,” writes David Ciardi in an e-mail exchange. Dr. Ciardi is a researcher at NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute, based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calf., and a member of the international team reporting the discovery in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Nature.

The planet, which orbits a sun-like star some 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Serpens, was first detected in 2008 by instruments aboard the European Space Agency’s COROT satellite. The spacecraft was designed to study the physics of distant stars and to detect any transiting planets in the process.

Read more about this story in today’s edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

And, for interesting examples of current extraterrestial photography, see Where Stars Form at the CSM Photo Galleries web site.