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Astronomers: A solar system with six Earth-sized planets orbiting in perfect resonance

The resonances of this exo-solar system
Click for original image.

Astronomers today announced the discovery of a solar system with six Earth-sized exoplanets that orbit their Sun-like star in a synchronized manner, their orbits in a gravitational lock-step called resonance.

The graphic to the right illustrates that pattern. From the press release:

While multi-planet systems are common in our galaxy, those in a tight gravitational formation known as “resonance” are observed by astronomers far less often. In this case, the planet closest to the star makes three orbits for every two of the next planet out – called a 3/2 resonance – a pattern that is repeated among the four closest planets.

Among the outermost planets, a pattern of four orbits for every three of the next planet out (a 4/3 resonance) is repeated twice. And these resonant orbits are rock-solid: The planets likely have been performing this same rhythmic dance since the system formed billions of years ago. Such reliable stability means this system has not suffered the shocks and shakeups scientists might typically expect in the early days of planet formation – smash-ups and collisions, mergers and breakups as planets jockey for position. And that, in turn, could say something important about how this system formed. Its rigid stability was locked in early; the planets’ 3/2 and 4/3 resonances are almost exactly as they were at the time of formation. More precise measurements of these planets’ masses and orbits will be needed to further sharpen the picture of how the system formed.

All the planets have orbits less than 55 days long, and though all have masses less than six Earth-masses, data suggests they more resemble Neptune because of their expanded gaseous make-up caused by the close orbits to the star.

Future observations are planned, most especially with Webb because its infrared capability will detect much of the chemistry of this system.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Doubting Thomas

    Really Fascinating. Sharing a little more from the links.

    100 lightyears away in the constellation Coma Berenices. I guess though I never thought of “earth like” as being less than six earth masses but OK, close enough for definitional purposes.

    The constellation is defined as an ancient asterism (an observed pattern in the sky separate from the 88 defined constellations.). It is visible in the northern sky in a rough square between constellations Leo, Bootes, Ursa Major and Virgo. First introduced in the 3rd Century BC by a Greek astronomer, Conon of Samos.

    Great stuff Robert! Thank You.

  • sippin_bourbon


  • Jeff Wright

    Now we know what system the Dalek hating Mechanoids came from…. everything like clockwork

  • Greg

    I think the Borg live there. Beware.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Almost as if the Creator has left his pocket watch for us.

  • Max

    Interesting, I’m more impressed that we are finding so many planets around stars. What was once thought of as rare is actually very common. To be in resonance is necessary for stability of so many planets so close together.
    Otherwise it would be a mess like our solar system. Planets on their side, some with elliptical orbit‘s, and even one spinning backwards… Not a boring solar system at all!

    “all have masses less than six Earth-masses, data suggests they more resemble Neptune because of their expanded gaseous make-up caused by the close orbits to the star”

    There’s no logic in the statement that they resemble Neptune because of how close they are to the star.
    Does Mercury and Venus resemble Neptune because of how close they are to the star? Does Neptune look
    like Neptune because of how close it is to the star?
    One thing has nothing to do with the other. Just as the heat of a planet is not associated with the sun. (The hottest planet to the coldest is Jupiter, nearly 4 times hotter than the surface of the sun, then Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Venus, mercury, Earth and then Mars)

    Although Saturn is much larger than these planets, if you could walk the surface of this ball of gas, you’d only be 10% heavier than on earth. I fully expect an attempt to terraform this real estate into a water planet in a 1000 years.
    Although there’s not enough light for photosynthesis at 7AU (which is the true meaning of the “green zone”) the problem will be “cooling” the planet down enough.

  • Max: The reason the distance from the star matters is that it heats up all these planets, making them expand with thick gaseous atmospheres. The ones that are of heavier mass thus resemble Neptune reasonably. The others not so much.

    Overall however we must apply the uncertainty of science to all these conclusions. We presently know very little about these exoplanets other than their mass and orbits, and the nature of the star. This is why infrared Webb observations will be so illuminating.

  • pzatchok

    I am going to guess that their orbits are not exactly the same relative distance from each other.

  • Max

    Zimmerman commented;
    “Max: The reason the distance from the star matters is that it heats up all these planets, making them expand with thick gaseous atmospheres”

    That would be reasonable only if the planets orbit is inside that suns atmosphere.
    Mercury for example is nearly half the distance to the sun then earth is. Because of the volume increases with a increase of diameter, earth receives around 1/4 of the energy that mercury does. Mercury is 800° F on its airless surface. (much cooler away from the equator to extremely cold in it’s polar regions and on the Darkside… 300°F below zero)
    Earths moon is 250°F but none of that heat penetrates our atmosphere which is extremely cold in the stratosphere. Heating up the deeper into earths atmosphere you go indicating that heat is a function of air pressure… Just as it is on all of the other planets.

    Same with Venus, it’s upper atmosphere is so cold that carbon dioxide freezes into CO2 snow. That’s colder, despite how close it is to the sun, than any region on earth!
    This documented occurrence proves that no solar heating by convection is possible. It would violate the laws of thermodynamics.
    It would be like cooking a turkey in the oven having the inside be done, while the outside of the turkey is still raw.

    It would be more correct to say that these large planets have a thicker atmosphere because their proximity to the sun allows them to capture more solar gases from the solar wind making them fluffy.

    Empirical evidence trumps speculation.
    Just as 40 years of satellite observation has never captured a “greenhouse event” where the upper atmosphere is warmer than the lower atmosphere. despite 50 weather balloons released twice a day across America has never measured any rise in temperature according to the greenhouse theory. (which also violates the laws of thermodynamics)
    Even so, it is often repeated as fact when it’s completely fictional. A means to an end watering down the scientific method for the purpose of manipulation.

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