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!
Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
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:...
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...
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...
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...
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,...
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07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine