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.”
Eric Ford | EurekAlert!
Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University
Astrophysicists explain the mysterious behavior of cosmic rays
18.08.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences