Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists Announce Smallest Extra-Solar Planet Yet Discovered and Find Outer Limits of the Pulsar Planetary System

08.02.2005


Penn State’s Alex Wolszczan, the discoverer in 1992 of the first planets ever found outside our solar system, now has discovered with Caltech’s Maciej Konacki the smallest planet yet detected,in that same far-away planetary system. Immersed in an extended cloud of ionized gas, the new planet orbits a rapidly spinning neutron star called a pulsar. The discovery, to be announced during a press conference at a meeting concerning planetary formation and detection in Aspen, Colorado, on 7 February, yields an astonishingly complete description of the pulsar planetary system and confirms that it is remarkably like a half-size version of our own solar system — even though the star these planets orbit is quite different from our Sun.



"Despite the extreme conditions that must have existed at the time these planets were forming, Nature has managed to create a planetary system that looks like a scaled-down copy of our own inner solar system," Wolszczan reports. The star at the center of this system is a pulsar named PSR B1257+12 — the extremely dense and compact neutron star left over from a massive star that died in a violent explosion 1,500 light years away in the constellation Virgo.

Wolszczan and his colleagues earlier had discovered three terrestrial planets around the pulsar, with their orbits in an almost exact proportion to the spacings between Mercury, Venus, and Earth. The newly discovered fourth planet has an orbit approximately six times larger than that of the third planet in the system, which Konacki says is amazingly close to the average distance from our Sun to our solar system’s asteroid belt, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.


"Because our observations practically rule out a possible presence of an even more distant, massive planet or planets around the pulsar, it is quite possible that the tiny fourth planet is the largest member of a cloud of interplanetary debris at the outer edge of the pulsar’s planetary system, a remnant of the original protoplanetary disk that created the three inner planets," Wolszczan explains. The small planet, about one-fifth of the mass of Pluto, may occupy the same outer-boundary position in its planetary system as Pluto does in our solar system. "Surprisingly, the planetary system around this pulsar resembles our own solar system more than any extrasolar planetary system discovered around a Sun-like star," Konacki says.

Fifteen years ago, before Wolszczan’s discovery of the first extrasolar planets, astronomers did not seriously entertain the idea that planets could survive around pulsars because they would have been blasted with the unimaginable force of the radiation and remnants of their exploding parent star. Since then, Wolszczan, Konacki, and colleagues have gradually been unraveling the mysteries of this system of pulsar planets, using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to collect and analyze pulsar-timing data. "We feel now, with this discovery, that the basic inventory of this planetary system has been completed," Wolszczan says.

These discoveries have been possible because pulsars, especially those with the fastest spin, behave like very accurate clocks. "The stability of the repetition rate of the pulsar pulses compares favorably with the precision of the best atomic clocks constructed by humans," Konacki explains. Measurements of the pulse arrival times, called pulsar timing, give astronomers an extremely precise method for studying the physics of pulsars and for detecting the phenomena that occur in a pulsar’s environment.

"A pulsar wobble due to orbiting planets manifests itself by variations in the pulse arrival times, just like a stellar wobble is detectable with the well-known Doppler effect so successfully used by optical astronomers to identify planets around nearby stars by the shifts of their spectral lines," Wolszczan explains. "An important advantage of the fantastic stability of the pulsar clocks, which achieve precisions better than one millionth of a second, is that this method allows us to detect planets with masses all the way down to those of large asteroids."

The very existence of the pulsar planets may represent convincing evidence that Earth-mass planets form just as easily as do the gas giants that are known to exist around more than 5 percent of the nearby Sun-like stars. However, Wolszczan says, "the message carried by the pulsar planets may equally well be that the formation of Earth-like planets requires special conditions, making such planets a rarity. For example, there is growing evidence that a nearby supernova explosion may have played an important role in our solar system’s formation." Future space observatories, including the Kepler and the Space Interferometry Missions, and the Terrestrial Planet Finder, will play a decisive role in making a distinction between these fundamental alternatives.

Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psu.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

nachricht Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

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: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Simple processing technique could cut cost of organic PV and wearable electronics

06.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

3-D printed kidney phantoms aid nuclear medicine dosing calibration

06.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Robot on demand: Mobile machining of aircraft components with high precision

06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>