New Technique Results in Discovery of Six Distant Planets

(CN) – Astronomers announced Monday the discovery of six new planets orbiting three different stars, seen by using a new technique that is certain to help astronomers discover even more.

(NASA / CXC / M. Weiss)

In a series of three papers published in Nature Astronomy, scientists said the newly discovered planets range from about 2.6 times the mass of Earth to almost half the mass of Jupiter, and all of them orbit close to their corresponding stars.

While it’s normally difficult to ascertain faraway planets that orbit closer to their star than the planets do in our solar system, Carole Haswell of The Open University in the U.K. and colleagues created a new technique to identify them.

When a planet moves close to a star, its atmosphere erodes in a process known as ablation, causing a cloud of gas to dissipate. Haswell and her team looked for star systems where ablation was happening and were able to use that information to pinpoint the closely orbiting planets.

The research team quickly discovered the new planets looking at the first three stars they examined with the new technique. One of the planets is so close to its star, it’s able to complete an orbit around it in five days. Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, has an orbit of 88 days.

The authors say in the study that the new technique will be “an effective way to search for new planets” due to its ability to detect low mass planets with little data other than the presence of the ablation process.

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