This Solar System Has Been Hiding Three "Super-Earths" in It

Karen Teramura & BJ Fulton, UH IfA

A solar system located roughly 100 light-years from ours has apparently been concealing an “unusual family” of planets, Harvard-Smithsonian’s Center for Astronomy (CfA) reports.

Researchers analyzing data from NASA’s K2 mission say they’ve found three “super-Earths” orbiting a late K-dwarf star called GJ9827. K-dwarf stars — also known as orange dwarf stars — are main sequence stars that have between 0.65 to 0.84 solar masses.

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The team found that this particular star has three super-Earths in its system, which is sadly not the term given to planets that remember to take their vitamins (truly a missed opportunity). Instead, it’s what astronomers call planets with masses greater than Earth’s but less than Neptune’s. The researchers’ findings have been published in The Astronomical Journal.

“The three exoplanets have radii of about 1.6, 1.3, and 2.1 Earth-radii respectively,” CfA reports. “These planets orbit very close to the star, with periods of 1.2, 3.6 and 6.2 days respectively, and at these close distances they have fairly hot temperatures, estimated at 1172, 811 and 680 Kelvin.”

Scientists on this study found the three exoplanets in question using the transit method. This common and effective technique analyzes the way light dims in front of a star when an object — in this case, a planet — passes in front.

In order to better understand these planets, scientists need better gear. The researchers report that the planets around GJ9827 likely run the gamut from terrestrial to gaseous, but next-generation telescopes like James Webb will allow them to better peer into the atmospheres of these weird worlds. Hopefully, that particular telescope will be off the ground by spring 2019.

Every new exoplanet brings a new hope of finding dogs in space, and three super-Earths sound like a pretty reasonable place to start looking.

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