New Worlds

Smallest Alien Solar System Discovered

The most crowded alien planetary system found yet possesses five worlds all orbiting a star at least 12 times closer than Earth does the sun, researchers say.

Investigators discovered these exoplanets using NASA's pioneering Kepler space observatory. The orbiting telescope has detected more than 2,300 potential alien worlds since its March 2009 launch. The researchers used Kepler to analyze the planetary system around the star KOI-500, a star about the mass of the sun but only about three-quarters its diameter and only about 1 billion years old, less than one-quarter the sun's age. KOI-500 is approximately 1,100 light-years away in the constellation Lyra, the harp. KOI-500 is a super-compact planetary system, the most tightly packed one seen yet, hosting at least five planets ranging from 1.3 to 2.6 times the size of Earth. The orbits these planets are now in make them too hot for the planets to have formed there. The researchers suggest the planets around KOI-500 were originally more spread out, and migrated inward due to gravitational interactions between them and the protoplanetary disk of gas and dust they originated from. As scientists have discovered more and more exoplanets, they have found that most observed worlds orbit much closer to their stars than any planet in our solar system orbits the sun, including so-called hot Jupiters, which are giant planets orbiting closer to their stars than Mercury does the sun.


Scientists still don't understand why most observed alien planetary systems look so unlike ours.


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