11 New Planetary Systems… 26 New Planets… Kepler Racks ‘Em Up!

Article written: 26 Jan , 2012
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

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Eleven ball in the side pocket. Whack! And another 26 planets are discovered! NASA just announced the latest tally and the new discoveries come close to doubling the amount of verified planets and tripling the number of stars which are confirmed to have more than one transiting planet. It’s just another score for understanding how planets came to be… planets which run the gambit from about one and half times the size of Earth up to the size of Jupiter. Of these, fifteen are judged to be between the size of Earth and Neptune – while more observations will reveal their structure. The new bodies orbit the parent star between 6 and 143 days and all are closer than our Sun/Venus distance.

“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky,” said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”

Kepler is a busy-body. It monitors the brightness changes in more than 150,000 stars. Through repeated measurements, it is able to pick out minute magnitude fluctuations which occur as a planet passes between us, Kepler and the parent sun. The newly documented solar systems are host to between two and five closely situated transiting bodies. In such cramped systems, the gravitational interaction between the orbiting members means some are accelerated – and others decelerated – in their tracks. Faster orbital speeds account for changes in orbital periods… Changes that the Kepler mission documents as Transit Timing Variations (TTVs). For planetary systems possessing TTVs, no extreme study with ground-based telescopes is required to verify their existence and the technique allows Kepler to validate the presence of planetary systems around further and fainter stars.

What’s been found? Five of the systems documented as Kepler-25, Kepler-27, Kepler-30, Kepler-31 and Kepler-33, are home to a set of planets whose orbits double each other. The outer body orbits twice for every inner body orbit. Four of the systems, Kepler-23, Kepler-24, Kepler-28 and Kepler-32, are home to a pairing where the outer planet circles the star twice for every three times the inner planet orbits.

“These configurations help to amplify the gravitational interactions between the planets, similar to how my sons kick their legs on a swing at the right time to go higher,” said Jason Steffen, the Brinson postdoctoral fellow at Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics in Batavia, Ill., and lead author of a paper confirming four of the systems.

And now for the game ball… Kepler-33 had the most planets of all. With a parent star older and more massive than Sol, the system gives rise to five planets whose sizes run between one and a half to five times the size of Earth. But, this is one crowded grouping. All of the planets orbiting this star are closer than Mercury is to our Sun! Thanks to stellar properties, Kepler is able to distinguish planets like these. The drop in the sun’s brightness and the length of time it takes for the planet to transit all play a role in determining presence. With similar signatures verified around the same star, chances of false readings are unlikely.

“The approach used to verify the Kepler-33 planets shows the overall reliability is quite high,” said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper on Kepler-33. “This is a validation by multiplicity.”

Original Story Source: NASA News Release.

Tammy was a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter’s Gold Status.

(Tammy passed away in early 2015… she will be missed)

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11 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    Honestly, They should start selling the rights to name these exoplanets something more original than Kepler 33c. I would love to own my own planet, and with so many out there, pretty much everyone could have their own system!

    • Anonymous says

      I name this planet ‘Bob’

    • Anonymous says

      No, I’m not going to consumerize the naming of planets. I think we should keep this designation, it is thr most efficient way to do that.

      • Anonymous says

        Well, isn’t that just boring and unimaginative and a lousy use of rich people’s money which could go toward the next space telescope. No one is suggesting ditching the designations as they’re useful for catalogues but I’d rather be descending through the stratosphere of Smitherman’s Planet than Kepler 106B. Besides, if it were a contest, what a great way to involve people who might otherwise never even look up on a clear starry night? Besides, do you really think the Kepler designations will be the sole names in perpetuity?

  2. Tim McDaniel says

    Should be “run the gamut”.

  3. Anonymous says

    NASA should sell the naming rights to all stars and planets. At the present rate of discovery they might be able to double their budget,

    • Member
      Anonymous says

      There’s a big problem with that idea. The official names of any objects are determined by the IAU, which is an international body, so the best NASA could do is say “if you buy naming rights to this planet, we’ll refer to it by the name you give it” – but nobody else would bother. Any scientist outside of NASA, and especially outside of the US, would continue using the IAU name, and it would lead to a lot of confusion if NASA – and the media who follow NASA – started using alternative names. It would also suppress demand and make the naming rights almost worthless. That’s a very small income for an awful lot of hassle.

      I do think it’s a good idea to sell the naming rights, but it would be up to the AIU, and I’d like to see the proceeds go to a related charitable cause like dark sky awareness programs or school astronomy clubs.

      • Anonymous says

        Of course, you’re right, the IAU not NASA, and school astronomy makes sense. Just keep any money made out of the politicians’ hands.

  4. How cool! I’d been wondering if Kepler would discover planets with orbital resonances.

  5. Anonymous says

    This will serve as data on the many body physics of planetary systems. Further, this illustrates how planetary systems have a huge range of diverse orbital configurations and physical or geological structures. It is almost a sort of local analogue of the string landscape.

    LC

  6. Udipta says

    Just saw a documentary about this great chap. Also, wonder how much further the James Webb Space Telescope will take us from here…

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