Introducing the Planet Kepler 30 solar system…
Astronomers have discovered an alien solar system whose planets are arranged much like those in our own solar system, a find that suggests most planetary systems start out looking the same, scientists say.
Researchers studying the star system Kepler-30, which is 10,000 light-years from Earth, found that its three known worlds all orbit in the same plane, lined up with the rotation of the star — just like the planets in our own solar system do. The result supports the leading theory of planet formation, which posits that planets take shape from a disk of dust and gas that spins around newborn stars.
“In agreement with the theory, we have found the star’s spin to be aligned with the planets,” said study co-author Dan Fabrycky, of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “So this result is profound because it is basic data testing the standard planet formation theory.”
Interactions among planets can later throw such ordered arrangements out of whack, researchers added, creating the skewed orbits seen in many alien systems today. [Gallery: The Strangest Alien Planets]
The Kepler-30 system consists of three known extrasolar planets circling a sunlike star. All three worlds — Planet Kepler-30b, Planet Kepler-30c and Planet Kepler-30d — are much larger than Earth.
All eight planets still orbit on nearly the same horizontal plane, which matches up with the plane of the sun’s equator. It’s what makes our home system look like a flat, spinning disc, and also a sign that our system hasn’t experienced anything too chaotic since its formation more than 4 billion years ago.
Until now, many astronomers thought that comparatively few star systems end up looking like ours. The planet-hunting Kepler telescope has spotted many systems in which the arrangement of worlds is askew rather than orderly. But now, thanks to new research being published in the journal Nature this week, scientists say there might be many more star systems that look like ours.
The birth of a solar system can be a messy process. The forming star’s gravitational pull attracts dust, gas, and rock that form a ring around the newborn. After billions of years, the chaotic ring eventually starts to differentiate itself into the component parts of what we recognize as a solar system.
More Out There
Drake Deming, a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland and author of a commentary accompanying the new study, says the researcher’s methods for tracking planetary orbits could eventually become a new standard for planet hunters, especially those looking for more solar systems like ours in the Universe.
Before Kepler, most of the exoplanets discovered were hot Jupiters—huge gaseous planets that were usually orbiting their stars in wildly oblique patterns. Astrophysicists know a lot about these “hot Jupiter” systems because they were relatively easy to study without space-based telescopes like Kepler.
But now researchers are finding more evidence that multiplanet systems such as ours are far more common than the solitary gas giants. “New studies have shown that indeed only one out of every 100 stars have a hot Jupiter,” Sanchis-Ojeda says. “There are many more small planets close to a host star.”
Although the Kepler-30 planets probably don’t hold life—all three are too close to their home star—they represent another step closer to finding a solar system that might, Deming says. The next step could be a new NASA program that, if funded in the fall, would take Sanchis-Ojeda’s methods even further. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a Kepler-like satellite, but instead of focusing on a small sliver of the sky, TESS would survey the entire sky for nearby solar systems that could be similar to ours. “TESS would be an all-sky version of Kepler,” Deming says. “We’ll have a better chance of finding nearby stars. It might be the future of exoplanetary science”.