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Discovery Alert: Watch the Synchronized Dance of a 6-Planet System
The discovery: Six planets orbit their central star in a rhythmic beat, a rare case of an “in sync” gravitational lockstep that could offer deep insight into planet formation and evolution.
Key facts: A star smaller and cooler than our Sun hosts a truly strange family of planets: six “sub-Neptunes” – possibly smaller versions of our own Neptune – moving in a cyclic rhythm. This orbital waltz repeats itself so precisely it can be readily set to music.
This animation shows six “sub-Neptune” exoplanets in rhythmic orbits around their star – with a musical tone as each planet passes a line drawn through the system. The line is where the planets cross in front of (transit) their star from Earth’s perspective. In these rhythms, known as “resonance,” the innermost planet makes three orbits for every two of the next planet out. Among the outermost planets, a pattern of four orbits for every three of the next planet out is repeated twice. Animation credit: Dr. Hugh Osborn, University of Bern Details: While multi-planet systems are common in our galaxy, those in a tight gravitational formation known as “resonance” are observed by astronomers far less often. In this case, the planet closest to the star makes three orbits for every two of the next planet out – called a 3/2 resonance – a pattern that is repeated among the four closest planets.
Among the outermost planets, a pattern of four orbits for every three of the next planet out (a 4/3 resonance) is repeated twice. And these resonant orbits are rock-solid: The planets likely have been performing this same rhythmic dance since the system formed billions of years ago. Such reliable stability means this system has not suffered the shocks and shakeups scientists might typically expect in the early days of planet formation – smash-ups and collisions, mergers and breakups as planets jockey for position. And that, in turn, could say something important about how this system formed. Its rigid stability was locked in early; the planets’ 3/2 and 4/3 resonances are almost exactly as they were at the time of formation. More precise measurements of these planets’ masses and orbits will be needed to further sharpen the picture of how the system formed.
Fun facts: The discovery of this system is something of a detective story. The first hints of it came from NASA’s TESS (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), which tracks the tiny eclipses – the “transits” – that planets make as they cross the faces of their stars. Combining the TESS measurements, made in separate observations two years apart, revealed an assortment of transits for the host star, called HD 110067. But it was difficult to distinguish how many planets they represented, or to pin down their orbits.
Eventually, astronomers singled out the two innermost planets, with orbital periods – “years” – of 9 days for the closest planet, 14 days for the next one out. A third planet, with a year about 20 days long, was identified with the help of data from CHEOPS, The European Space Agency’s CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite.
Then the scientists noticed something extraordinary. The three planets’ orbits matched what would be expected if they were locked in a 3/2 resonance. The next steps were all about math and gravity. The science team, led by Rafael Luque of the University of Chicago, worked through a well-known list of resonances that potentially could be found in such systems, trying to match them to the remaining transits that had been picked up by TESS. The only resonance chain that matched up suggested a fourth planet in the system, with an orbit about 31 days long. Two more transits had been seen, but their orbits remained unaccounted for because they were only single observations (more than one transit observation is needed to pin down a planet’s orbit). The scientists again ran through the list of possible orbits if there were two additional, outer planets that fit the expected chain of resonances across the whole system. The best fit they found: a fifth planet with a 41-day orbit, and a sixth just shy of 55.
At this point the science team almost hit a dead end. The slice of the TESS observations that had any chance of confirming the predicted orbits of the two outer planets had been set aside during processing. Excessive light scattered through the observation field by Earth and the Moon seemed to make them unusable. But not so fast. Scientist Joseph Twicken, of the SETI Institute and of the NASA Ames Research Center, took notice of the scattered light problem. He knew that scientist David Rapetti, also of Ames and of the Universities Space Research Association, happened to be working on a new computer code to recover transit data thought to be lost because of scattered light. At Twicken’s suggestion, Rapetti applied his new code to the TESS data. He found two transits for the outer planets – exactly where the science team led by Luque had predicted.
The discoverers: An international team of researchers led by Rafael Luque, of the University of Chicago, published a paper online on the discovery, “A resonant sextuplet of sub-Neptunes transiting the bright star HD 110067,” in the journal Nature on Nov. 29.
Tracing a link between two neighbour planet at regular time interval along their orbits, creates a pattern unique to each couple. The six planets of the HD110067 system create together a mesmerising geometric pattern due to their resonance-chain. Credit: Thibaut Roger/NCCR PlanetS, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 View the full article
4 Min Read Arkansas City Welcomes NASA to Discuss 2024 Total Solar Eclipse
Adam Kobelski, a solar astrophysicist with Marshall, shares tips to safely view a total solar eclipse. Many U.S. cities, including Russellville, Arkansas, are planning watch parties to view the April 2024 total solar eclipse. Credits: Joshua Mashon The contiguous United States will see only one total solar eclipse between now and the year 2044, and the citizens of Russellville, Arkansas, are ready.
On Monday, April 8, 2024, the Moon will pass between the Sun and Earth, providing a rare opportunity for those in the path of the Moon’s shadow to see a total solar eclipse, including the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. With more than 100,000 tourists expected to visit Russellville for this rare experience, elected officials and industry leaders hosted a team of NASA experts from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to discuss educational outreach opportunities.
More than 1,000 people attended a free solar eclipse presentation in Russellville, Arkansas, featuring experts from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Oct. 30. Joshua Mashon “Having NASA involved elevates the importance of this eclipse and amplifies the excitement for our community,” said Russellville Mayor Fred Teague. “We are thankful for the rich discussions and insight provided by NASA, and we look forward to hosting them again during the April eclipse.”
Due to the length of the eclipse totality in Russellville, NASA is planning to host part of the agency’s live television broadcast from the city, as well as conduct several scientific presentations and public outreach events for visitors. Additional factors for selecting Russellville included access to a large university, and proximity to Little Rock – the state’s capital – to engage media outlets and key stakeholders representing industry and academia.
The day-long Oct. 30 visit helped NASA learn how the city is preparing for the massive influx of tourists and news media personnel. Christie Graham, director of Russellville Tourism, explained the city’s commitment to the eclipse and how their planning processes started more than a year in advance.
“Months ago, we created our solar eclipse outreach committee, consisting of key stakeholders and thought leaders from across the city,” Graham said. “We’ve developed advanced communication and emergency management plans which will maximize our city’s resources and ensure everyone has a safe and memorable viewing experience.”
Following the NASA public presentation about the April 2024 total solar eclipse, Kobelski chats with guests interested in learning more about NASA and heliophysics. NASA/Christopher Blair This visit also provided NASA an opportunity to share important heliophysics messaging with the public, including the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers. To learn how best to interact with local students, NASA team members met with the Russellville School District Superintendent Ginni McDonald and Arkansas Tech University President Russell Jones.
“Leveraging the eclipse to provide quality learning opportunities will be a valuable and unforgettable experience for all,” said McDonald. “Our staff enjoyed discussing best strategies and look forward to sharing NASA educational content with our students.”
The team also discussed internship opportunities available for students to work at NASA centers across the nation, as well as how to get involved in NASA’s Artemis student challenges, sophisticated engineering design challenges available for middle school, high school, college and university students.
“Our university serves nearly 10,000 students, many pursuing a variety of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degrees, including mechanical and electrical engineering, biological and computer sciences, nursing, and more,” Jones said.
It is important our students learn of the many unique opportunities available with NASA and how they can get involved.”
Arkansas Tech University President
“It is important our students learn of the many unique opportunities available with NASA and how they can get involved.”
The agency’s visit concluded with a free public presentation at the Center for Performing Arts, where more than 1,000 attendees gained insight on the upcoming eclipse from Dr. Adam Kobelski, a solar astrophysicist at Marshall. Following the presentation, all NASA team members participated in a question-and-answer session with audience members of all ages.
Overall, the visit proved valuable for everyone with NASA team members remarking how enthusiastic and prepared both Russellville and the university are to support the eclipse event.
Adam Kobelski, a solar astrophysicist with Marshall, shares tips to safely view a total solar eclipse. Many U.S. cities, including Russellville, Arkansas, are planning watch parties to view the April 2024 total solar eclipse. “It was a refreshing reminder of the public’s excitement for the science we conduct at NASA,” said Kobelski. “This experience established my overall confidence in their readiness to successfully host a quality viewing experience for everyone.”
The April eclipse is part of the Heliophysics Big Year, a global celebration of solar science and the Sun’s influence on Earth and the entire solar system. Everyone is encouraged to participate in solar science events such as watching solar eclipses, experiencing an aurora, participating in citizen science projects, and other fun Sun-related activities.
Cities across the nation are planning eclipse watch parties and other celebrations to commemorate the event. Weather permitting, the April 2024 total eclipse will be visible across 13 states, from Texas to New York.
Learn More About the 2024 Eclipse Christopher Blair
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala
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Solar Jet Hunter is Back, with New Data and New Features!
A solar jet extending from the Sun. Join the re-launched Solar Jet Hunter Project and chase these incredible outbursts! Credit: Image data: NASA SDO/AIA NASA’s Solar Jet Hunter project invites you to help find solar jets, ejections of matter from the Sun. The project was on hold for a few months as the science team worked behind the scenes. It’s re-launching now with new data from NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory and new features!
“The project has been really successful in finding solar jets.” said project PI Dr. Sophie Musset from the European Space Agency. “But we need more help!”
The project team has set up two workflows, or tasks, that need your help. You’ll find them on the new project webpage — one or both may be active. “Jet or Not”, is a workflow that asks you to find jets, and “Box the Jets” is a workflow where you annotate movies of the Sun and draw boxes around jets that you spot.
With your input, the Solar Jet Hunter science team is building a catalogue of jets that will be used by many solar physicists. Check the blog regularly for news on the science that your work enables—and join the hunt for solar jets at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/sophiemu/solar-jet-hunter !
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