Scientists seem to have discovered a system of orbital rings around an exoplanet, and its sheer scale would make it the largest such ring system observed yet.
Researchers from the University of Rochester in the USA and the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands have found a possible exoplanet (a planet that orbits a star other than our Sun), named J1407b. It has a series of over 30 rings around it, much like the planet Saturn, but about 200 times larger. Estimates put the system at containing over 30 rings
and covering a distance of around 93 million miles. The planet itself is thought to be a gas giant similar to Jupiter
, but with a mass of anywhere from 10 to 40 times that of Jupiter, which in and of itself has a mass of almost 320 planet Earths.
Courtesy of scientias.nl
If it were in our solar system, the rings of J1407b would be clearly visible in the sky and larger in appearance than the moon.
The ring system was discovered by analyzing observational data from the SuperWASP project in 2007, which is a project designed to find planets based on observing a star and analyzing the eclipse that occurs when a planet’s orbit passes in front of that star. The normal eclipse period will dim the light from that star for a few hours, but in this instance the light was dimmed for a period of almost two months. The dimming varied in intensity, which indicated a series of rings
One of the fascinating aspects about this discovery is that this can help astronomers explain how orbital satellites such as moons are formed. It is theorized that the particles that make up these rings can condense into moons, which could explain the gaps between the rings. One theory is that J1407b is a very young system, only about 16 million years old as compared to our solar system, which is over 4 billion years old, and that these rings will eventually form moons and similar satellites and cause the rings to get smaller. In our own system, the ringed planets have moons beyond the rings, so it is thought that they too could have had massive ring systems
at one point, which played a part in forming those moons.
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