From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published September 14, 2012 04:17 PM

Planets discovered orbiting sun-like stars in a cluster

For the first time, NASA-funded astronomers have spotted planets orbiting sun-like stars in a crowded star cluster. The two newfound planets are boiling hot Jupiter-like gaseous orbs that orbit extremely close to their parent stars.

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Each hot Jupiter circles a different sun-like star in the Beehive Cluster, also called the Praesepe. The beehive cluster is a collection of about 1,000 stars that are attracted to a common center. Located about 550 light years away from Earth, the stars are born at about the same time and out of the same giant cloud of material. These young stars remain loosely bound together by mutual gravitational attraction.

This discovery provides evidence that planets can sprout up in dense stellar environments.

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

"This has been a big puzzle for planet hunters," said Sam Quinn, lead author of the paper describing the results which was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "We know that most stars form in clustered environments like the Orion nebula, so unless this dense environment inhibits planet formation, at least some sun-like stars in open clusters should have planets. Now, we finally know they are indeed there."

"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."

From the discovery, researchers conclude that stars with a higher concentration of metals are more likely to host planets.

Read more at: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Starry Skies image image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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