this surprising system of 6 planets in perfect resonance composes a symphony

2023-12-02 05:00:46

Astonishing discovery: six planets orbiting their central star, in a rhythmic and synchronized movement. This rare phenomenon, a kind of “gravitational lock in sync,” could offer deep insight into the formation and evolution of planets.

These six planets, called “sub-Neptunes” because they are potentially smaller versions of our own Neptune, surround a star smaller and cooler than our Sun. They move in a cyclical rhythm, so precise that it can easily be transcribed into music. An animation, created by Dr. Hugh Osborn of theUniversité of Berne, illustrates this spatial ballet, with a musical tone for each planet each time they pass in front of their star, seen from Earth (see video below).

The six planets of the HD110067 system together create a geometric pattern through their chain of resonance.
Credit: Thibaut Roger/NCCR PlanetS, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In this system, the planet closest to the star completes three orbits for every two of the next, creating a 3/2 “resonance”, a pattern repeated among the four closest planets. For the most distant planets, a pattern of four orbits for every three of the next (4/3 resonance) is repeated twice. This remarkable stability suggests that these planets have been performing this rhythmic dance since the system’s formation billions of years ago. This stability indicates that this system has not suffered the usual shocks and upheavals of planetary formation, such as collisions and mergers.

The discovery of this system is the result of a real astronomical investigation. The first clues came from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which tracks tiny eclipses, or “transits,” of planets passing in front of their stars. By combining TESS measurements, carried out duringobservations separated by a two-year delay, astronomers detected a variety of transits for the host star, named HD 110067, but without precisely distinguishing the number of planets and their orbits.

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With the help of data from the CHEOPS satellite (CHAracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) of theEuropean Space Agencythree planets have been identified, the first with a orbital period of 9 days, the next of 14 days, and a third of approximately 20 days. The team scientistdirected by Rafael Luque of theUniversity of Chicagohad to resort to calculations mathematics and gravitational systems to identify the orbits of other planets. An additional challenge arose when TESS observations, rendered almost unusable by the light scattered from the Earth and the Moon, were recovered thanks to a new code computer science by David Rapetti of Space University and NASA Ames Research Centermaking it possible to confirm the orbits of the two outer planets.

This discovery, published in the journal Nature by an international team of researchers led by Rafael Luque, offers a fascinating insight into the complexity and the precision of the Universe.

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