August 25, 2010

New solar system has up to seven planets

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 1:35 pm
Astronomers say the new solar system could hold up to seven Neptune-sized planets. Picture: NASA

Astronomers say the new solar system could hold up to seven Neptune-sized planets. Picture: NASA

A TEAM of astronomers in Chile have announced they have discovered a new solar system that has between five and seven planets, making it the largest known star system outside our own.

Scientists at the European Southern Observatory made the discovery while studying a star located 127 light years away in the constellation of Hydrus.

So far, they have confirmed the existence of five planets in the newly-found solar system, but believe there may be two more.

If that is correct, that star system will have seven planets.

In another similarity to our solar system – which has eight planets – the team said the distances between the planets follow a regular pattern.

The five confirmed planets are fairly large, about the size of Neptune, but travel in an orbit that is closer to their sun.

The possible sixth planet is also huge, roughly the same size as Saturn.

The potential seventh planet is small, about 1.4 times the size of Earth.

It took scientists at the observatory in La Silla, Chile six years to identify all of the planets using the world’s most powerful spectograph, an instrument that allows them to observe light signatures emanating from distant stars.

By analysing how the light that reaches Earth moves, they are able to determine the mass of planets that are passing before it.

So far astronomers know of 15 systems with at least three planets.

Only one, 55 Cancri, contains five planets.



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