Sunday, April 17, 2016
Newly found Ring System
There is a star out there closely related to the star that is the Sun that has an interesting planet. The planet itself is not interesting, but the things orbiting it is interesting. The planet is called SWASP J1407b. It is a gas giant that is roughly 20 times the mass of Jupiter and it consist of a ring system that is around 0.6 AU in radius. That is about the distance of 60% of the distance that the Earth is from the Sun. The ring system also has some gaps in it which may mean there are satellites orbiting the planet. There are many ideas of why the rings are so big and the one that sticks out the best (to me) is the idea of an early gas giant system. If you were to look at Jupiter, it does have a ring system, but it also has a lot of major terrestrial satellites orbiting it. The idea is, that these maybe were once a part of a huge ring system that were outside the Roche limit of Jupiter (Check Saturn's Rings blog for an in depth explanation of the Roche limit) that formed the moons. How astronomers found this was that they used a technique that has been used a lot and is very good at finding planets called the Transit Method. This method measure the amount of light a star has at a given time and when a planet passes by it, the measurement of light is less than that of which if there were't a planet in front of it. However, they did this with the rings of the planet unintentionally. They were observing the star and happened to see that the dips in light were happening and saw how it would be darker, then the same brightness, then darker again, and then up until it was 90% of the brightness was seen and then the same pattern happened. The paper written gave a full explanation for observation but that is the simple idea of the concept. It also explained how it was the only option they could think about when they first observed it and how over 2 years, that is what they can prove for it to be. Thus, J1407b is the planet with the largest known ring system.