Tatooine times two: Kepler space telescope finds a planet with four suns

Artist’s concepton of PH1 orbiting the two closest binary stars, with the second pair of stars farther out. Credit: Haven Giguere / Yale

Until recently, astronomers only knew about exoplanets which, like those in our own solar system, orbited a single star. Then, the first one was discovered which orbits two stars, much like Tatooine in the Star Wars films. Since then, other similar planets have been found, indicating that such circumbinary planets (those which orbit double stars) may be fairly common.

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41 new exoplanets confirmed by Kepler space telescope

Illustration of the newly confirmed exoplanets (in green) along with additional unconfirmed planets in the same solar systems (in violet). Credit: Jason Steffen, Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics

The number of confirmed exoplanets found by the Kepler space telescope has increased again, by 41. The planets, which orbit 20 different stars, range in size from about the same size as Earth to more than seven times Earth’s radius.

The results come from two new studies of the Kepler data; the papers are still in the process of being peer-reviewed, but the new discoveries should increase significantly the number of confirmed exoplanets found by Kepler so far. Currently, that number stands at 77, with 2,321 additional candidates awaiting confirmation.

See Examiner.com for the full article.

Another Tatooine: Kepler discovers multiple planets orbiting two stars

Diagram showing the comparison of orbits of the two Kepler-47 planets with the inner planets in our own solar system (planetary sizes and orbits to scale). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle (SSC / Caltech)

Not too long ago, the Kepler space telescope discovered the first exoplanet which orbited two binary stars (a circumbinary star system). Such planets had been thought possible, but this was the first confirmed detection of a world reminiscent of the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars films, a planet with a double sunrise and double sunset.

Now another such planetary system has been found by Kepler, but this one consists of not just one, but two known planets. The planets orbit the binary star system Kepler-47, which is about 4,900 light-years from Earth.

See Examiner.com for the full article.

If all of Kepler’s exoplanets orbited one star, this is what it would look like

Artist’s conception of Kepler-22b, an exoplanet which is less than two and half times the size of Earth and orbits in the habitable zone of its star. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

As the number of exoplanets being found by the Kepler space telescope continues to grow into the thousands, it can start to feel overwhelming (in a good way though). So many worlds found so far, and many more, probably millions, waiting to be discovered.

The Kepler planetary candidates are of a wide variety, orbiting different kinds of stars. Some are large gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn, and others are small and rocky, like Earth. The most current observations now suggest that they are common in the universe, maybe even outnumbering the stars themselves.

See Examiner.com for the full article (and video).

Kepler finds alien solar system similar to our own

Diagram of Kepler-30 solar system, showing alignment of the three known planets.
Credit: Cristina Sanchis Ojeda

The Kepler space telescope has been finding a wide variety of alien worlds, as well as solar systems that they reside in. In our own solar system, the planets are in nice, neat orbits which are aligned with the Sun’s equator, consistent with the idea that they formed from a relatively flat, spinning disk of gas and dust around the Sun billions of years ago.

So far, other solar systems found haven’t tended to follow that pattern. Did that mean our solar system was a fluke? But now, Kepler has found one, about 10,000 light-years away. Scientists at MIT, the University of California at Santa Cruz and other institutions made the discovery from analysis of Kepler data.

See Examiner.com for the full article.