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New Finds Upsets Theory of Planet Formation 2010-04-17

Posted by clype in Discovery, Glasgow, Science, Scotland.
Tags: , , ,

Nine new planets have just been discovered, and unlike the planets in our solar system, two of them are orbiting in the opposite direction to the rotation of their host star. This — along with a recent study of other ‘exoplanets’ — upsets the dominant current theory of how planets are formed.

There is a preponderance of these planets with their orbital spin going opposite to that of their parent star.

These and other related discoveries are being presented at ‘The UK National Astronomy Meeting‘ in Glasgow, Scotland, this week.


The 2010 Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting, or RAS NAM, will be hosted by the University of Glasgow at the main campus in Glasgow’s West End. This meeting also incorporates both UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) meetings.

This is the first public mention of the new planets and the research will be described in upcoming scientific journal articles.

According to Mr. Tim Lister PhD, a project scientist at at ‘Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network‘ (‘LCOGT’) affiliated with ‘The University of California, Santa Barbara‘:

‘Planet evolution theorists now have to explain how so many planets came to be orbiting like this’.

Dr.Lister leads a major part of the observational campaigns along with Ms.Rachel Street of ‘LCOGT’, Mr. Andrew Cameron of ‘The University of St. Andrews‘ and Mr. Didier Queloz, of ‘The Geneva Observatory‘.

  • By adding these nine new ‘transiting’ planets, the number of known transiting planets has grown from 71 to 80.

A transit occurs when a celestial body passes in front of its host star and blocks some of the star’s light. This type of eclipse causes a small drop in the apparent brightness of the star and enables the planet’s mass, diameter, density, and temperature to be deduced. The planets are called ‘exoplanets’ because they are located outside of our solar system.

After the initial detection of the new ‘exoplanets’ by ‘The Wide Angle Search for Planets‘ (‘The WASP’), the team of astronomers combined data from LCOGT’s 2 metre Faulkes Telescopes in Hawaii and Australia with follow-up from other telescopes to confirm the discoveries and characterise the planets.

The planets are revolving around nearby stars in our galaxy within 1000 light years of our sun. Their stars are located in the constellations Pegasus, Virgo, Pisces, and Andromeda in the northern hemisphere, and Eridanus, Hydra, Cetus, and Phoenix in the southern hemisphere.

The nine transiting exoplanets are called ‘Hot Jupiters‘.

These planets are giant gas planets that orbit close to their star. In the 15 years since the first ‘Hot Jupiters’ were discovered, their origin has been a puzzle. Because they are both large and close, they are easier to detect from their gravitational effect on their stars, and more likely to transit the disk of the star. Most of the first ‘exoplanets’ discovered were of this type.

The cores of giant planets are thought to form from a mix of rock and ice particles found only in the cold outer reaches of planetary systems. ‘Hot Jupiters’, therefore, must form far from their star and subsequently migrate inwards over the course of a few million years.

Many astronomers believed this could happen due to gravitational interactions with the disk of dust from which they formed, which might have also subsequently formed Earth-like rocky planets. However, these new results suggest that this may not be the whole story — because it does not explain how planets end up orbiting in a direction contrary that of the disk.


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