Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Whole Load Of Planets

I love astronomy. It is probably my favorite science-turned-hobby around. I try to follow news about space in general daily through sites like Universe Today and, when in a pinch, places like the NY Times Science section.

Anyway, it seems that astronomers have found a system that has the largest number of planets in it to date.
According to the ESO press release, the strongest gravitational signals come from planets with a mass roughly equivelant to Neptune, with orbits ranging from 6 to 600 days. Furthermore, Lovis said that his team has "good reasons to believe that two other planets are present," including one with a mass similar to Saturn and another that would be about 1.4 times that of the Earth's, making it the least-massive exoplanet discovered to date. The Saturn-like planet would possess an orbit of approximately 2,200 days, while a year on the smaller planet would last a mere 1.18 days.

I am most interested in the planet that is 1.4 times the mass of Earth; not because it is close to our size, but because this is the least-massive planet that has been detected. We are crossing the threshold into an era of finding planets the mass of Earth and smaller. I can't wait until we find these objects and start analyzing their atmospheres to see what is flying about through the air.

It is also interesting that there is no massive Jupiter-like planet in the system, just a bunch of smaller Saturn-like planets that crowd around the star at about the distance of Mars at maximum. I have no background to understand why, but I can form a few uneducated guesses (that do NOT involve a god).

This is great. This could either lead to us finding life, which would be awesome, or we could find out that we are truly alone, at least in this part of the galaxy, which would be a little weird, but awesome none-the-less.

Read Also: Universe Today's Coverage

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