A star about 127 light-years from Earth may have even more planets than the sun, which would make the planetary system the most populated yet found. According to a new study, HD 10180—a sunlike star in the southern constellation Hydrus—may have as many as nine orbiting planets, besting the eight official planets in our solar system.
What kind of alien worlds are they and what does this discovery say about our place in the cosmos? Read the rest of my story at National Geographic News.
Tags: exoplanets, Hydrus
Posted in Space Exploration | Comments Off
Some exoplanets orbiting pairs of stars can end up in a gravitational ping pong match, chaotically bouncing between their two host stars for hundreds of thousands of years, a new study suggests.
According to the new theory based on a complex set of computer simulations, a planet tenuously orbiting around one member of binary star system, can suddenly lose stability and bounce over to the companion star over a course of a few hundred years.
How common could such chaotic planetary systems form and what effect would it have on Earthlike planets? Read my full story at National Geographic News.
Posted in Planets, stars | Comments Off
It seems that an alien planet from the fantasy world of Hollywood might be more real than we thought. Coming only a day after astronomers at major scientific conference announced that worlds with two suns can be Earthlike, a new study now suggests our galaxy alone holds millions of “Tatooines”—nicknamed after the Star Wars planet with two suns.
Many of us remember that Star Wars scene where Luke Skywalker is walking on his home world of Tatooine and looks off into the sunset and there’s not one but TWO suns sinking towards the horizon. Well now scientists have found three such bizzare planets- each with a pair of orbiting suns.Using the Kepler Space Telescope, a team of astronomers now believe that double-sun worlds are common across the universe and may represent an entirely new class of worlds, called circumbinary planets.
How did the planet hunters come to this startling conclusion and what does this mean for our search for sister Earths? Read the rest of my story at National Geographic News
Tags: exoplanets, Kepler space telescope, Star Wars, Tatooine
Posted in Planets | 1 Comment »
You may have noticed the tsunami of astronomy related news all this week coming through my Facebook and Twitter accounts and National Geographic News feed. That’s because of the ginormous professional astronomy conference now going on in Austin, Texas called the annual American Astronomical Meeting. You can think of it as sort of like the astrogeek’s version of the Oscars without actual awards being handed out. But boy there are tons of really cool discoveries being announced from black holes spitting hi energy bullets, to the the farthest galaxy cluster ever seen.
But I think the coolest discovery so far is the latest calculations that show how many planets may exist in our Milky Way galaxy. The number is astounding, 100 billion worlds packed into our home galaxy alone! Astronomers believe that this means at least one planet for every single star in the Milky Way and if this is true this bodes well for future searches for Earth like planets because it would mean at least 1500 exoplanets just within a 50 light year radius of us. And that’s important because that may put many Earth-sized planets within the range of telescopes to be able to make detailed measurements of their physical properties including if they have habitable environments.
Adding to this exciting conclusion as gleaned from 6 years of observations is that terrestrial or small rocky planets, like Earth, Mars and Venus probably outnumber the gas giant type of planets like Jupiter and Saturn. They think there may be as much as 10 billion floating around our galactic home. Wow! If this is true, just think of the possible numbers of Earth-like planets that may be out there.
Unfortunately these predicted numbers are all we have for now. We cannot know the fraction of these alien worlds that may ultimately harbor life.
Today’s telescopes are just not quite up to getting the complete picture just yet – but we are tantalizingly close- maybe within the next 5 to 10 years.
In the meantime, at least for now it’s exciting just to be able to say that with 100 billion worlds jammed into our humdrum galaxy – which is only one of at least 100 billion others in the observable cosmos – its not only possible, but probable that there is another blue marble out there somewhere.
Posted in Planets | Comments Off