Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A "freakishly compact" solar system

Sometimes size matters.

Or at the very least, makes a subject unique.  Astronomers have located a solar system consisting of seven planets that is "freakishly compact."  This is something that is thus far an anomaly in space science.  These planets were located by use of Kepler data and the transit method.

All seven planets take up a tight, confined orbit around...get this...a dwarf star that is 2,500 light years from Earth. Just how "tight" and confined are we talking?  Well, the outermost planet has an orbit equivalent to 1 AU (Astronomical Unit, the distance from Earth to the Sun.)  That's tight when you're talking about an entire solar system or at least how we've come to understand them.

Even more interesting is the fact that the system does have its similarities with our own despite its compact structure.  The five innermost planets are terrestrial, meaning they are composed of rock and metals.  The two outermost planets are gas giants not unlike our own Jupiter (though the size may differ.)

This discovery raises a few questions for me and if I had an astronomer handy, I would ask the following:

-Is this a stable design for a solar system?  Is it more prone to flying apart due to an outside influence than a solar system with a model closer to our own?

-We generally assume that habitable planets occupy a zone close to their system's star(s).  Does that mean that systems like this one might be more habitable?  In terms of the terrestrial planets anyway?  Then again, I suppose we cannot rule out life on the gaseous planets.  Of course in those cases we'd likely be talking about lightweight, almost gelatinous lifeforms that drift and roam in the atmosphere.  "Sky amoebas" if you will.  Yes, it's pure speculation but let's cover the bases.

-Speaking of speculation.... If we didn't see this solar system model coming, what other types of system designs could speculatively work?  What other forms of orbital patterns might planets take up around the stars I am just now seeing outside in the crepuscule?

Oh who are we kidding?  This solar system is far too neat and tidy of a construct to be anything naturally occurring.

To quote Giorgio Tsoukalos, "I'm not saying it's aliens, but..."

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