Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New pictures show fourth planet in giant version of our solar system

09.12.2010
Astronomers have discovered a fourth giant planet, joining three others that, in 2008, were the subject of the first-ever pictures of a planetary system orbiting another star other than our sun.

The solar system, discovered by a team from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics with collaborators at University of California, Los Angeles and Lowell Observatory, orbits around a dusty young star named HR8799, which is 129 light years away. All four planets are roughly five to seven times the mass of Jupiter.

Now, the same research team has discovered a fourth planet that is about seven times the mass of Jupiter. Using high-contrast, near infrared adaptive optics on the Keck II telescope in Hawaii, the astronomers imaged the fourth planet (dubbed HR8799e) in 2009 and confirmed its existence and orbit in 2010. The research appears in the Dec. 8 edition of the journal Nature.

"The images of this new inner planet in the system is the culmination of 10 years worth of innovation, making steady progress to optimize every observation and analysis step to allow the detection of planets located ever closer to their stars," said Christian Marois, a former LLNL postdoc now at NRC, and first author of the new paper.

If this newly discovered planet was located in orbit around our sun, it would lie between Saturn and Uranus. At about 30 million years old, this giant version of our solar system is young compared to our system, which is about 4.6 billion years old.

Though the system is very much like our own, it is much more extreme than our own -- the combined mass of the four giant planets may be 20 times higher, and the asteroid and comet belts are dense and turbulent. In fact, the massive planets' pull on each other gravitationally, and the system may be on the verge of falling apart.

Lawrence Livermore scientists simulated millions of years of evolution of the system, and showed that to have survived this long, the three inner planets may have to orbit like clockwork, with the new planet going around the star exactly four times while the second planet finishes two orbits in the time it takes the outer planet to complete one. This behavior was first seen in the moons of Jupiter but has never before been seen on this scale.

Studying the planet's orbits also will help estimate their masses. "Our simulations show that if the objects were not planets, but supermassive "brown dwarfs," the system would have fallen apart already," said Quinn Konopacky, a postdoctoral researcher at LLNL's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and a key author of the paper. (Brown dwarfs are failed stars, too low in mass to sustain stable hydrogen fusion but larger than planets.)

"The implication is that we have truly found a unique new system of planets. We don't yet know if the system will last for billions of years, or fall apart in a few million more. As astronomers carefully follow the HR8799 planets during the coming decades, the question of just how stable their orbits are could become much clearer." (See the simulation showing thousands of years of evolution of the system if the planets are not in a clockwork orbit or are more massive brown dwarfs.)

The origin of these four giant planets remains a puzzle. It neither follows the "core accretion" model, in which planets form gradually close to stars where the dust and gas are thick or the "disk fragmentation" model in which a turbulent planet-forming disk rapidly cools and collapses out at its edges. Bruce Macintosh, a senior scientist at LLNL and the principal investigator for the Keck Observatory program, said: "There's no simple model that can make all four planets at their current location. It's a challenge for our theoretical colleagues."

Previous observations had shown evidence for a dusty asteroid belt orbiting closer to the star -- the new planet's gravity helps account for the location of those asteroids, confining their orbits just like Jupiter does in our solar system. "Besides having four giant planets, both systems also contain two so-called "debris belts" composed of small rocky and/or icy objects along with lots of tiny dust particles, similar to the asteroid and Kuiper comet belts of our solar system," noted co-author Ben Zuckerman, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA. (See the movie.)

"Images like these bring the exoplanet field into the era of characterization," said Travis Barman, a Lowell Observatory exoplanet theorist and co-author of the current paper. "Astronomers can directly examine the atmospheric properties of four giant planets orbiting another star that are all the same young age and that formed from the same building materials."

"I think there's a very high probability that there are more planets in the system that we can't detect yet," Macintosh said. "One of the things that distinguishes this system from most of the extrasolar planets that are already known is that HR8799 has its giant planets in the outer parts -- like our solar system does -- and so has 'room' for smaller terrestrial planets -- far beyond our current ability to see -- in the inner parts."

A team led by Macintosh is constructing the Gemini Planet Imager, a new system that will be up to 100 times more sensitive than current instruments and able to image planets similar to our own Jupiter around nearby stars.

"It's amazing how far we've come in a few years," Macintosh said. "In 2007, when we first saw the system, we could barely see two planets out past the equivalent of Pluto's orbit. Now we're imaging a fourth planet almost where Saturn is on our solar system. It's another step to the ultimate goal -- still more than a decade away -- of a picture showing another planet like Earth."

Anne Stark | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.llnl.gov
http://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2010/Dec/NR-10-12-02.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor
24.04.2017 | DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>