Two huge alien planets found in intimate embrace
These giant exoplanets are closer together and more tightly bound than any previously discovered planets.
Fri, Jul 30 2010 at 9:10 AM
WAY OUT THERE: A giant exoplanet. (Photo: NASA)
An exoplanet is a planet located outside our solar system, and most are thought to resemble Jupiter. At present, scientists have confirmed 473 possible exoplanets. Recently, astronomers discovered a pair of gas giants orbiting each other more closely than ever before seen. And as Space.com reports, a new study shows that their close orbit is a delicate set of moves that keeps them from plummeting into the dying star they circle.
These gas giants are bound by their mutual gravitational pulls. Scientists point out that they are “closer and tighter” than any other known planets. Space experts are unable to explain how this has occurred. John Johnson is a California Institute of Technology astronomer and the leader of the study. As he told Space.com, "This is the latest in a long line of strange discoveries about extrasolar planets, and it shows that exoplanets continuously have this ability to surprise us. Each time we think we can explain them, something else comes along."
The planets and the star they orbit are located around 223 light years from Earth. Experts say that such close giant gas planets would easily destroy their planetary system if they weren’t in such a carefully designed “dance” around the star. The real mystery to scientists is how these planets got into these orbits in the first place.
Scientists have identified similar exoplanets and think that hundreds more might be identified. As Johnson told Space.com, "Right now, we're monitoring 450 of these massive stars, and we are finding swarms of planets. Around these stars, we are seeing three to four times more planets out to a distance of about 3 AU — the distance of our asteroid belt — than we see around main sequence stars." Johnson also says that main sequence or “traditional” stars are younger than these other stars. In fact, our sun is a main sequence star.
What is the fate of these weirdly orbiting planets? Eventually, the stars at the center of these strange orbits will expand, will swallow the closest planets, and likely slingshot the others out of that solar system.
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