Thursday, 12 April 2012

Astronomer finds evidence for record-breaking nine planet system

How many planets does a planetary system need to break a record?  According to a study conducted by Mikko Tuomi from the Centre for Astrophysics Research, the answer is nine – one more than our own Solar system!  This significant discovery of the planetary system around the star named HD 10180 is the first time that astronomers have discovered a star with more planets than the Sun. Located 130 light years away, the star is not within reach of foreseeable human space travel, but in astronomical distances, it is still considered to be in the Solar neighbourhood!

An artist’s conception of the planetary system around HD10180. One of the new Super-Earth planets HD10180j is seen in the foreground (on the left hand side of the picture), with the nearby Neptune-like planet HD10180e in the background (on the right-hand side of picture with blue cloudy atmosphere). The central star and the other 7 planets can be seen in the distance, including the second new Super-Earth HD10180i, third out from the central star. Picture credit: By J Pinfield, for the RoPACS network (04/12)
Originally reported to be orbited by seven planets in 2010, re-analysed data from the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) now indicates that the star has nine planets.  The study, accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, verifies the existence of the previously announced seven planets and shows that there are likely to be two additional planets orbiting the star.

The two newly detected signals are probably those of planets classified as hot super-Earths.  These new planets are closer to the star’s surface than the Earth is to the Sun which makes them too hot to be able to maintain water on their surfaces in its liquid form.

Future observations are required to verify the existence of these planet candidates and to establish the HD 10180 star system as the richest planetary system known to humankind - certainly a star worth keeping our telescopes on into the future.

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