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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.
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