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The possibility of more than one exoplanet sharing the same orbit

PDS 70, as seen by ALMA
The Trojan debris clouds around PDS 70, as seen by ALMA

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have detected evidence that suggests the possibility of more than one exoplanet sharing the same orbit around PDS 70, a star 400 light years away.

This young star is known to host two giant, Jupiter-like planets, PDS 70b and PDS 70c. By analysing archival ALMA observations of this system, the team spotted a cloud of debris at the location in PDS 70b’s orbit where Trojans are expected to exist.

Trojans occupy the so-called Lagrangian zones, two extended regions in a planet’s orbit where the combined gravitational pull of the star and the planet can trap material. Studying these two regions of PDS 70b’s orbit, astronomers detected a faint signal from one of them, indicating that a cloud of debris with a mass up to roughly two times that of our Moon might reside there.

The press release — as well as most news reports — touts the possibility that they have found a second planet in this orbit. They have not, and are likely not going to. As noted above, the data indicates the presence of “a cloud of debris”, which is most likely a clustering of Trojan asteroids, just as the more than 12,000 asteroids we see in the two Trojan points in Jupiter’s orbit.

Nonetheless, this is the first detection of what appears to be a Trojan clustering in the accretion disk of a young star.

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.

 

The print edition can be purchased at Amazon. Or you can buy it directly from the author and get an autographed copy.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

2 comments

  • David Ross

    Full planets in Trojan haloes seem unstable if they raise tides on the major planet. One theory about Theia’s demise is that it raised tides on protoEarth.
    There’s also the effect of other planets. Jupiter and Saturn used to be in a closer resonance which wrought havock upon the inner Solar System, such that only asteroids exist between Mars and Jupiter (and the largest one Ceres is probably a Centaur brought in from beyond Jupiter).

  • pzatchok

    Imagine
    In the far future it might be possible to travel faster then the speed of light. A wish I know.

    But doing so would allow one to look back in time and watch the Earth Moon binary form. And then we would know absolutely how it happened.

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