Space

September 17, 2012

First planets found around sun-like stars in a cluster

NASA-funded astronomers have, for the first time, spotted planets orbiting sun-like stars in a crowded cluster of stars.

The findings offer the best evidence yet planets can sprout up in dense stellar environments. Although the newfound planets are not habitable, their skies would be starrier than what we see from Earth.

The starry-skied planets are two so-called hot Jupiters, which are massive, gaseous orbs that are boiling hot because they orbit tightly around their parent stars. Each hot Jupiter circles a different sun-like star in the Beehive Cluster, also called the Praesepe, a collection of roughly 1,000 stars that appear to be swarming around a common center.

The Beehive is an open cluster, or a grouping of stars born at about the same time and out of the same giant cloud of material. As such, the stars share a similar chemical composition. Unlike the majority of stars, which spread out shortly after birth, these young stars remain loosely bound together by mutual gravitational attraction.

“We are detecting more and more planets that can thrive in diverse and extreme environments like these nearby clusters,” said Mario R. Perez, the NASA astrophysics program scientist in the Origins of Solar Systems Program. “Our galaxy contains more than 1,000 of these open clusters, which potentially can present the physical conditions for harboring many more of these giant planets.”

The two new Beehive planets are called Pr0201b and Pr0211b. The star’s name followed by a “b” is the standard naming convention for planets.

“These are the first ‘b’s’ in the Beehive,” said Sam Quinn, a graduate student in astronomy at Georgia State University in Atlanta and the lead author of the paper describing the results, which was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Quinn and his team, in collaboration with David Latham at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, discovered the planets by using the 1.5-meter Tillinghast telescope at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona to measure the slight gravitational wobble the orbiting planets induce upon their host stars. Previous searches of clusters had turned up two planets around massive stars but none had been found around stars like our sun until now.

“This has been a big puzzle for planet hunters,” Quinn said. “We know that most stars form in clustered environments like the Orion nebula, so unless this dense environment inhibits planet formation, at least some sun-like stars in open clusters should have planets. Now, we finally know they are indeed there.”

The results also are of interest to theorists who are trying to understand how hot Jupiters wind up so close to their stars. Most theories contend these blistering worlds start out much cooler and farther from their stars before migrating inward.

“The relatively young age of the Beehive cluster makes these planets among the youngest known,” said Russel White, the principal investigator on the NASA Origins of Solar Systems grant that funded this study. “And that’s important because it sets a constraint on how quickly giant planets migrate inward. And knowing how quickly they migrate is the first step to figuring out how they migrate.”

The research team suspects planets were turned up in the Beehive cluster because it is rich in metals. Stars in the Beehive have more heavy elements such as iron than the sun has.

According to White, “Searches for planets around nearby stars suggest that these metals act like a ‘planet fertilizer,’ leading to an abundant crop of gas-giant planets. Our results suggest this may be true in clusters as well.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program office.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 21, 2014

News: IDF releases Iron Dome interception rate - Israel’s Iron Dome system has successfully intercepted 86 percent of the Palestinian rockets that it has engaged during Operation ‘Protective Edge’, according to the Israel Defense Forces.   Business: The turnaround of France’s defense giant Thales - Within seconds of meeting Jean-Bernard Levy it becomes apparent that h...
 
 

News Briefs July 21, 2014

Corruption investigated in Kansas National Guard The Kansas Adjutant General’s office says federal authorities are investigating possible corruption involving outside medical companies’ contracts with the Kansas Army National Guard. Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the adjutant general’s office, confirmed the investigation Friday to The Lawrence Journal-World but declined to rel...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Rick Goodfriend

B61 undergoes testing in AEDC wind tunnel

Air Force photograph by Rick Goodfriend Arnold Engineering Development Complex engineers recently joined researchers with Sandia National Laboratories to perform a wind tunnel test on a full-scale mock-up B61. Pictured with the...
 

 
Army photograph by Charles Kennedy

New CT scanner finds diverse, important uses for researchers

Army photograph by Charles Kennedy Turning a now-standard tool for medical diagnostics and therapeutics to a host of new applications, the U. S. Army Research Laboratory’s Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate rece...
 
 

Ingalls Shipbuilding awarded $23.5 million LHA 8 affordability contract

Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding division has been awarded an affordability design contract for $23.5 million for early industry involvement to reduce the construction and life-cycle cost for the amphibious assault ship LHA 8. “Ingalls Shipbuilding has been constructing large-deck amphibious ships for nearly 50 years, and this contract will build on our company...
 
 
Marine Corps photograph

DOD identifies missing World War II Marine

Marine Corps photograph Marines wounded during the landing on Tarawa in November 1943 are towed out on rubber boats to larger vessels that will take them to base hospitals. The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>