Researchers discover our twin solar system, GJ676A – where everything is 4x larger

Astronomers have detected our “grotesque” twin: A planetary system arranged much like our own solar system, a new study says.

Dubbed GJ676A, the system has two rocky planets orbiting close to its host star, and two gas giants orbiting far away. This means the system is arranged like our system—though in GJ676A, everything is much larger.

For instance, the smallest rocky planet in GJ676A is at least four times the mass of Earth, while the largest gas giant is five times the size of Jupiter.

Other multiple-planet systems have been discovered, such as HD10180, which has been called the richest exoplanetary find ever because of the seven to nine planets orbiting its host star.

But HD10180’s planets are all gas giants in relatively close orbits, while GJ676A has both rocky and gas planets—and its “Neptune-like” planet takes 4,000 days to make one orbit.

The long orbits of GJ676A’s gas giants and the short orbits of its close-in, extremely hot super Earths are what led the astronomers to dub GJ676A our solar system’s twin.

 

Source: National Geographic News – Solar System’s “Grotesque” Twin Found

 

 

Continue reading Researchers discover our twin solar system, GJ676A – where everything is 4x larger

All 786 known planets, to scale

All 786 known planets, to scale.

“This” (tiny gray box) is our solar system. The rest of these orbit other stars and were only discovered recently. Most of them are huge because these are the kind we learned to detect first, but now we’re finding that small ones are actually more common.

We know nothing about what’s on any of them. With better telescopes that would change.

This is an exciting time.

 

 

Find the original graphic on XKCD.

Voyager I – about to leave our Solar System

Last week, in the corners of the Internet devoted to outer space, things started to get a little, well, hot. Voyager 1, the man-made object farthest away from Earth, was encountering a sharp uptick in the number of a certain kind of energetic particles around it. Had the spacecraft become the first human creation to “officially” leave the solar system?

It’s hard to overstate how wild an accomplishment this would be: A machine, built here on Earth by the brain- and handiwork of humans, has sailed from Florida, out of Earth’s orbit, beyond Mars, beyond the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, and may now have left the heliosphere — tiny dot in the universe beholden to our sun. Had it really happened? How would we know?

We’re not quite there yet, Voyager’s project scientist and former head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Edward Stone, told me. The spacecraft is on its way out — “it’s leaving the solar system” — but we don’t know how far it has to go or what that transition to interstellar space will look like.

 

Keep readingGet Ready, Because Voyager I Is *This Close* to Leaving Our Solar System

Continue reading Voyager I – about to leave our Solar System

Scientists estimate billions of habitable planets in the Milky Way

Using results from the High Accuracy Radical Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the European Southern Observatory, the scientists say there are likely tens of billions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone that may be able to sustain life.

They estimate that one hundred of those planets are in the sun’s immediate neighborhood — which in space-speak is 30 light years away.

**The fastest known technology allows us to travel 1 light year in ~100 years

The generally accepted (though perhaps shortsighted) definition of a planet that can sustain life is one that has a mass between one and 10 times that of Earth, as well as a rocky surface, and the ability to sustain liquid water — meaning the planet’s surface temperature is neither too hot that water would evaporate nor too cold that it would freeze.

Although there are no planets that meet those criteria in our own solar system, the report suggests that they are common around other stars.

via LA Times

Continue reading Scientists estimate billions of habitable planets in the Milky Way

Photo – the most volcanic body in our solar system – Jupiter’s moon Io

How big is Jupiter’s moon Io?

The most volcanic body in the Solar System, Io (usually pronounced “EYE-oh”) is 3,600 kilometers in diameter, about the size of planet Earth’s Moon.

Gliding past Jupiter at the turn of the millennium, the Cassini spacecraft captured this awe inspiring view of active Io with the largest gas giant as a backdrop, offering a stunning demonstration of the ruling planet’s relative size.

Io hurtles around its orbit once every 42 hours at a distance of 420,000 kilometers or so from the center of Jupiter. That puts Io nearly 350,000 kilometers above Jupiter’s cloud tops, roughly equivalent to the distance between Earth and Moon.

The Cassini spacecraft itself was about 10 million kilometers from Jupiter when recording the image data.

via NASA