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Cosmic orchestra: Six planets found dancing in harmony

In a nearby star system, scientists have unearthed an extraordinary : a rhythmic orbital dance involving six planets gracefully encircling their central star. This celestial ballet unfolds with such precision that it can be translated into musical harmony, representing a rare instance of gravitational synchronicity.

The unique gravitational lockstep observed in this system provides an exceptional opportunity to delve into the intricacies of planet formation and . Rafael Luque, a scientist from the University of Chicago, spearheaded the analysis, and the findings were published on Nov. 29 in the journal Nature.

The significance of this discovery extends beyond its aesthetic allure. The synchronized orbital patterns offer a benchmark system for studying sub-Neptunes, a prevalent category of planets beyond our solar system. Understanding how these planets form, evolve, their composition, and whether they harbor conditions conducive to is paramount.

According to Luque, “This discovery is going to become a benchmark system to study how sub-Neptunes, the most common type of planets outside of the solar system, form, evolve, what are they made of, and if they possess the right conditions to support the existence of liquid water in their surfaces.” This celestial symphony presents a unique window into the mysteries of distant planetary systems, unlocking new realms of knowledge about our cosmic neighbors.

A rare resonance

Situated approximately 100 light-years away in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices, the star HD110067 hosts a mesmerizing ballet of six planets. This celestial spectacle, discovered by NASA's Transiting Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2020, was unveiled through fluctuations in the star's brightness as planets transited its surface. The collaborative efforts of TESS and the European Space Agency's CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite (Cheops) enabled researchers to analyze this data, revealing a groundbreaking planetary configuration.

While multi-planet systems are not uncommon, those exhibiting a tight gravitational embrace, termed “resonance,” are a rarity in astronomical observations. In this extraordinary instance, the innermost planet completes three orbits for every two of its neighboring planet—a fascinating 3/2 resonance. This rhythmic pattern extends to the four closest planets. Moving outward, the outermost planets follow a 4/3 resonance, completing four orbits for every three of the subsequent planet.

Remarkably, these resonant orbits are exceptionally stable, suggesting that the planets have engaged in this cosmic dance since the formation of the system billions of years ago. This discovery provides astronomers with a unique and uncharted window into the enduring celestial harmonies that have graced this distant star system throughout the ages.

Formation stories

Identifying orbitally resonant systems holds immense significance for astronomers as they serve as invaluable windows into the formation and evolution of planetary systems. While planets around stars often originate in resonance, external factors such as a massive planet, interactions with passing stars, or significant impact events can disrupt this delicate equilibrium.

Many known multi-planet systems exhibit proximity suggestive of past resonance, but finding systems that maintain this resonance is a rarity. Rafael Luque emphasizes, “We think only about one percent of all systems stay in resonance, and even fewer show a chain of planets in such configuration.” The star system HD110067 stands out as a special case, offering a pristine snapshot of a planetary system that has endured untarnished.

This unique configuration beckons further to unravel its secrets. More precise measurements of the planets' masses and orbits are essential to enhance our understanding of the system's formation and provide deeper insights into the dynamics that have preserved this celestial harmony over billions of years.

Source: University of Chicago

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