UF astronomers, NASA team find 6 closely packed planets orbiting same star
A NASA team including three University of Florida astronomers has found six new planets in a distant solar system that in some ways resembles our own. The NASA team, including UF associate professor Eric Ford, postdoctoral associate Althea Moorhead and graduate student Robert Morehead, will announce its findings in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
"This is the new prototype for a system of rocky planets beyond our own," Ford said. "It changes our understanding of the frequency of solar systems like our own in deep space."
The planets orbit Kepler-11, a sun-like star about 2,000 light years away. With temperatures hotter than Venus – likely more than 400 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit – the planets range in size from twice to 4½ times Earth's diameter. The five confirmed planets are larger in mass but less dense than Earth, and closely packed, taking from 10 to 47 days to orbit the star. There is almost certainly a sixth planet orbiting nearly twice as far away, but its distance from the star makes its confirmation more difficult, Ford said.
Although scientists haven't yet determined the planets' composition, their densities offer some clues. Denser than water but less dense than Earth, "their surfaces could be rocky or a combination of rock and ice, but they also have a lot of gas because their densities are so low," Ford said.
The Kepler mission is searching for planets in what is known as the habitable zone — where a planet could have liquid water on its surface — using a space telescope staring at one portion of the Milky Way for years on end. The Kepler-11 planets were detected not by direct observation but by tracking the dimming of a star's light when planets pass between the star and the telescope. The objects orbiting Kepler-11 were confirmed as planets by observing small irregularities in the time when each planet transits across the star, known as the transit-time variation method.
The Kepler-11 system marks the second set of planets identified by this technique, which allows scientists to find planets orbiting stars that would otherwise be too faint to be confirmed. The first system discovered by this method was Kepler-9, announced Aug. 26, 2010, which included two gas-giant planets. Kepler-11 is nearly 500 times dimmer than stars that are typically discovered by traditional methods. "This comes as a surprise to those accustomed the traditional planet-discovery technique," Ford said.
Kepler-11 also is remarkable in that the planets travel in nearly the same plane, similar to those in our solar system, making it much more likely that multiple planets could be detected orbiting a single star. The next step will be to delve deeper into the data continuing to arrive from the Kepler spacecraft to determine mass and orbits of the planets more precisely, providing clues to how the planets formed.
"Much of the scientific community thought that multiple planets transiting the same star would be unlikely," Ford said. "That idea has been completely overturned by this new discovery. Without the transit-timing method, these planets might have gone unconfirmed for years."
Source: University of Florida
Articles on the same topic
- Six small planets orbiting a sun-like star amaze astronomersWed, 2 Feb 2011, 13:39:33 EST
- NASA finds dozens of planets that might support lifefrom LA Times - ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 22:30:57 EST
- NASA announces discovery of more planetsfrom UPIWed, 2 Feb 2011, 20:30:47 EST
- Space telescope spots odd new solar systemfrom Reuters:ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 19:50:11 EST
- Tourist’s Guide to the New Alien Planet System Kepler-11from Space.comWed, 2 Feb 2011, 19:00:20 EST
- NASA's Prolific Planet Hunter: Kepler Telescope By-The-Numbersfrom Space.comWed, 2 Feb 2011, 18:00:58 EST
- NASA Spots 54 Potentially Life-Friendly Planetsfrom CBSNews - ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 16:31:54 EST
- Spacecraft sees signs of 1,200-plus worldsfrom Sciencenews.orgWed, 2 Feb 2011, 16:10:16 EST
- Kepler spots 1000 possible new planetsfrom BBC News: Science & NatureWed, 2 Feb 2011, 16:00:41 EST
- Earth-Size Planet Candidates Found in Habitable Zonefrom NASA Jet Propulsion LaboratoryWed, 2 Feb 2011, 15:04:25 EST
- Astronomers Find 6-Pack of Planets in Alien Solar Systemfrom Live ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 15:04:07 EST
- Kepler finds evidence of habitable Earth-size planets in Milky Wayfrom Science DailyWed, 2 Feb 2011, 14:31:23 EST
- NASA's Kepler spacecraft discovers extraordinary new planetary systemfrom Science DailyWed, 2 Feb 2011, 14:31:13 EST
- NASA finds Earth-size planet candidates in habitable zone, six planet systemfrom Science DailyWed, 2 Feb 2011, 14:31:11 EST
- Six small planets orbiting a sun-like star amaze astronomersfrom PhysorgWed, 2 Feb 2011, 14:04:59 EST
- UF astronomers, NASA team find 6 closely packed planets orbiting same starfrom Science BlogWed, 2 Feb 2011, 14:04:24 EST
- Space telescope spots odd new solar systemfrom Reuters:ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 13:50:14 EST
- The Strangest Alien Planetsfrom Space.comWed, 2 Feb 2011, 13:33:34 EST
- Astronomers Find 6-Pack of Planets in Alien Solar Systemfrom Space.comWed, 2 Feb 2011, 13:33:33 EST
- Nasa scientists discover planetary systemfrom The Guardian - ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 13:33:15 EST
- Exoplanet sextet stuns stargazersfrom BBC News: Science & NatureWed, 2 Feb 2011, 13:30:38 EST
- A Disturbingly Weird Exoplanet Systemfrom Science NOWWed, 2 Feb 2011, 13:30:15 EST
- New-Found Cornucopia of Exoplanets More Than Doubles the Current Cosmic Censusfrom PopSciWed, 2 Feb 2011, 12:33:54 EST
- For NASA Planet Hunters, Eureka Momentfrom CBSNews - ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 12:33:36 EST
- NASA Data Reveals Over 1,000 New Potential Alien Planetsfrom Space.comWed, 2 Feb 2011, 12:02:32 EST
- 1,000 possible new planets foundfrom CBC: Technology & ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 9:01:05 EST
- NASA finds planets a plenty outside solar systemfrom PhysorgWed, 2 Feb 2011, 5:03:14 EST
- NASA finds planets a plenty outside solar systemfrom AP ScienceWed, 2 Feb 2011, 3:10:56 EST
- In praise of… the Kepler missionfrom The Guardian - ScienceTue, 1 Feb 2011, 19:21:10 EST
- Hunting for Earth-like Alien Planets: Q & A with Astronomer Geoff Marcyfrom Space.comTue, 1 Feb 2011, 9:30:43 EST
- NASA to Announce New Discoveries About Alien Planetsfrom Space.comMon, 31 Jan 2011, 13:30:12 EST
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
- Volcanic eruptions affect flow of world's major rivers, study finds
- New fossils intensify mystery of short-lived, toothy mammal found in ancient North Pacific
- Back to the future: Science fiction turns science fact
- Foot fossils of human relative illustrate evolutionary 'messiness' of bipedal walking
- Protein reactions identified with subatomic resolution
- Twitter behavior can predict users' income level, new Penn research shows
- Math and me: Children who identify with math get higher scores
- Asteroid impact, volcanism were one-two punch for dinosaurs
- Portable device can quickly test for sickness-causing toxins in shellfish
- Signs of ancient megatsunami could portend modern hazard