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Six-planet system discovered just 270 light years away named TOI-1136

A team of scientists, using cutting-edge technology, has uncovered a fascinating star system named TOI-1136 in the Milky Way galaxy.

Located over 270 light years from Earth, this system, surprisingly close given the vast 100,000 light-year diameter of our galaxy, hosts a family of six, possibly seven, planets orbiting a dwarf star.

Unveiling the secrets of TOI-1136

This discovery is a milestone in our understanding of planetary formation and behavior around youthful stars.

Tara Fetherolf, a visiting assistant professor of astrophysics at Cal State San Marcos and a co-author of the study, highlights the uniqueness of this system.

“Because few star systems have as many planets as this one does, it’s getting close in size to our own solar system,” said Fetherolf. “It’s both similar enough and different enough that we can learn a lot.”

Their findings build upon initial 2019 observations from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The paper presents detailed insights into the exoplanets’ masses, orbital shapes, and atmospheric properties.

TOI-1136: A stellar enigma

The youth of TOI-1136, at just 700 million years old, is a key factor that sets it apart from many known systems, including our 4.5 billion-year-old solar system.

Stephen Kane, a professor of planetary astrophysics at UC Riverside and principal investigator of the TESS Keck Survey, explained the significance.

“This gives us a look at planets right after they’ve formed, and solar system formation is a hot topic. Any time we find a multi-planet system it gives us more information to inform our theories about how systems come to be and how our system got here,” Kane said. 

Juvenile stars like the one in TOI-1136 are both challenging and fascinating to study due to their high levels of activity, including intense magnetism, sunspots, and solar flares.

Young stars are much like toddlers, unpredictable and active, which can complicate high-precision measurements,” Kane explained.

Comparative analysis of planetary evolution

Interestingly, all the planets in this system share a similar age and formation conditions, providing a unique opportunity to compare how planets and their atmospheres evolve over time at varying distances from their star.

Moreover, the proximity of these planets to each other allowed the researchers to observe the gravitational effects they exert on one another -– a phenomenon difficult to measure in other systems.

The team, using instruments like the Automated Planet Finder telescope and the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer, detected subtle stellar motion variations.

Reimagining solar system origins

These findings, according to Corey Beard, the lead author and a UC Irvine Ph.D. candidate in physics, are the result of combining hundreds of velocity measurements with transit data, culminating in one of the most complex planetary system models in exoplanet research.

“It took a lot of trial and error, but we were really happy with our results after developing one of the most complicated planetary system models in exoplanet literature to date,” Beard said.

The collaborative efforts of international research teams, employing advanced technological tools, deepens our knowledge of distant worlds while bringing us closer to comprehending the unique nature of our own solar system.

Contemplating our place in the universe

In summary, the study of TOI-1136 opens new vistas in our quest to understand the cosmos. By meticulously unraveling the mysteries of this young, multi-planet system, scientists are revealing the intricacies of planetary formation and evolution.

Kane concludes with a reflection on the rarity of our solar system, saying, “The more we discover systems unlike ours, the more it appears that our solar system’s configuration might be exceptionally uncommon in the universe.”

As we continue to explore these celestial frontiers, each discovery like TOI-1136 not only enriches our scientific understanding but also challenges our perception of our place in the vast expanse of the universe.

This international collaborative effort involved prestigious institutions from around the globe, including research teams from the United States, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Japan, Australia, and others.

The study was funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

The full study was published in The Astronomical Journal.


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