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Two Planets in Very Close Orbit Around Sun-Like Stars

Sep 16, 2012 02:50 PM EDT
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Astronomers have found two alien planets orbiting sun-like stars in a Beehive Cluster of stars, announced NASA.

This is the first time it has been detected that planets can form in a dense environment with sun-like stars in a Beehive Cluster that is 550 light years away from Earth. The two planets look like Jupiter - very hot and not fit to inhabit.

According to NASA, the two planets, which have been named Pr0201b and Pr0211b, are very hot because they rotate so close to the sun-like stars. Each planet rotates a different star that is present in a Beehive Cluster known as Praesepe, wherein some 1,000 stars that were born around 600 million years ago at the same time and share similar chemical composition cloud at a common center.

"We are detecting more and more planets that can thrive in diverse and extreme environments like these nearby clusters," Mario R. Perez, the NASA astrophysics program scientist in the Origins of Solar Systems Program, said in a statement from NASA.

"Our galaxy contains more than 1,000 of these open clusters, which potentially can present the physical conditions for harboring many more of these giant planets," he said.

Astronomers found the two giant planets using a 1.5-meter Tillinghast telescope at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory near Amado, Ariz., while measuring the gravitational shake that the orbiting planets stimulate on their stars.

While Pr0201b completed its rotation once in every 4.4 days, Pr0211b orbits around its star in just 2.1 days, according to a report in Space.com. The discovery sheds light on how planets end up close to the stars. It is believed that most of the planets form away from the stars and are much cooler before they are pulled inwards towards the stars.

"The relatively young age of the Beehive cluster makes these planets among the youngest known," said Russel White, the principal investigator on the NASA Origins of Solar Systems grant that funded this study.

"And that's important because it sets a constraint on how quickly giant planets migrate inward. And knowing how quickly they migrate is the first step to figuring out how they migrate," he said.

Researchers suggested that the planets could have come closer to the stars in the Beehive Cluster as they are rich in metals. They noted that sun-like stars have more iron content than the sun.

The findings of the study are published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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