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‘Planet hunters’ reveal catalogue of strange world

  • June 4, 2024
  • 2 min read
‘Planet hunters’ reveal catalogue of strange world

Thousands of planets have been discovered around the orbit of other stars but relatively little is known about them. A NASA catalogue has featured 126 exotic and newly discovered worlds, including detailed measurements that allow for better comparisons to be made with our solar system.

The catalogue lists a diverse mixture of planet types beyond the solar system, including worlds with extreme environments to ones that have the potential to support life. They were analysed by an international team of scientists, using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in collaboration with W.M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawai’i. The results were published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement.

The researchers spent three years developing the catalogue, analysing over 13,000 radial velocity (RV) measurements to calculate the masses of 120 confirmed planets and six ‘candidate planets’ over the northern sky. Though the planets themselves are not visible to us, they have a visible effect. As they orbit their host stars, they exert a gravitational tug, causing the star to wobble and this can be observed.

Many of the planets in the survey stand out, helping to deepen our understanding of the diverse ways in which planets can form and evolve.

A related survey paper authored by UCR graduate student Michelle Hill announced the discovery of two new planets orbiting a star similar to the sun. The first is a ‘sub-Saturn’ gas giant with a mass and radius between that of Neptune and Saturn. TOI-1386 b takes just 26 days to orbit its star while its neighbour, a giant with a mass nearer that of Saturn, takes 227 days to complete an orbit around the same star.

Another survey paper authored by UCR graduate student Daria Pidhorodetska describes one half as big as Neptune that takes just 19 days to orbit around its star, a star similar to our own sun. Another planet is so close to  the orange dwarf star that it orbits that it completes an orbit in under 12 hours.

But stars can be as diverse as planets, with many being very different. To make comparisons, astronomers will want to find stars with a similar age, size and mass. This allows them “to do apples-to-apples comparisons” of the planets.

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