Astronomers have made an exciting discovery in a nearby star system that could shed light on the formation and evolution of planets outside of our solar system. A study led by University of Chicago astronomer Rafael Luque has revealed six planets in a rhythmic dance around their central star. The planets move in such precise harmony that their orbits can be set to music.
The findings, published in the scientific journal Nature, provide valuable insights into planet formation. This rare “in sync” gravitational lockstep system could serve as a benchmark for studying sub-Neptunes, which are the most common type of planets found outside our solar system.
Located approximately 100 light-years away in the Coma Berenices constellation, the star system in question is known as HD110067. The discovery was made using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which detected dips in the star’s brightness in 2020. These dips indicated the presence of planets passing in front of the star.
To further investigate, researchers combined the TESS data with information from the European Space Agency’s CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (Cheops). This collaboration revealed a unique configuration of six planets in the HD110067 system.
Interestingly, the closest planet to the star completes three orbits for every two orbits of the next planet out. Meanwhile, the pattern observed in the outermost planets is four orbits for every three of the next planet out. These resonant orbits are believed to have remained stable since the system’s formation billions of years ago.
Such resonant systems are crucial for understanding planetary systems’ formation and evolution. However, they are also easily disrupted, which makes systems like HD110067 rare and significant for study.
Although this discovery provides valuable initial insights, more research is needed to obtain precise measurements of the planets’ masses and orbits. Further study will also deepen our understanding of how the system formed and evolved over time.
The recent uncovering of this rhythmic planet dance in the HD110067 system highlights the ongoing advancements in exoplanet research. Through the combined efforts of ground-based telescopes and space missions like TESS and Cheops, astronomers continue to uncover the wonders of the universe, one star system at a time.