ESO: Five exoplanets found locked in a rhythmic dance

The latest report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Puzzling six-exoplanet system with rhythmic movement
challenges theories of how planets form

This artist’s impression shows the view from the planet in the TOI-178 system found orbiting furthest from the star. New research by Adrien Leleu and his colleagues with several telescopes, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope, has revealed that the system boasts six exoplanets and that all but the one closest to the star are locked in a rare rhythm as they move in their orbits.  But while the orbital motion in this system is in harmony, the physical properties of the planets are more disorderly, with significant variations in density from planet to planet. This contrast challenges astronomers’ understanding of how planets form and evolve. This artist’s impression is based on the known physical parameters for the planets and the star seen, and uses a vast database of objects in the Universe.Credits: ESO

Using a combination of telescopes, including the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO’s VLT), astronomers have revealed a system consisting of six exoplanets, five of which are locked in a rare rhythm around their central star. The researchers believe the system could provide important clues about how planets, including those in the Solar System, form and evolve.

The first time the team observed TOI-178, a star some 200 light-years away in the constellation of Sculptor, they thought they had spotted two planets going around it in the same orbit. However, a closer look revealed something entirely different.

“Through further observations we realised that there were not two planets orbiting the star at roughly the same distance from it, but rather multiple planets in a very special configuration,”

says Adrien Leleu from the Université de Genève and the University of Bern, Switzerland, who led a new study of the system published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The new research has revealed that the system boasts six exoplanets and that all but the one closest to the star are locked in a rhythmic dance as they move in their orbits. In other words, they are in resonance. This means that there are patterns that repeat themselves as the planets go around the star, with some planets aligning every few orbits. A similar resonance is observed in the orbits of three of Jupiter’s moons: Io, Europa and Ganymede. Io, the closest of the three to Jupiter, completes four full orbits around Jupiter for every orbit that Ganymede, the furthest away, makes, and two full orbits for every orbit Europa makes.

The five outer exoplanets of the TOI-178 system follow a much more complex chain of resonance, one of the longest yet discovered in a system of planets. While the three Jupiter moons are in a 4:2:1 resonance, the five outer planets in the TOI-178 system follow a 18:9:6:4:3 chain: while the second planet from the star (the first in the resonance chain) completes 18 orbits, the third planet from the star (second in the chain) completes 9 orbits, and so on. In fact, the scientists initially only found five planets in the system, but by following this resonant rhythm they calculated where in its orbit an additional planet would be when they next had a window to observe the system.

More than just an orbital curiosity, this dance of resonant planets provides clues about the system’s past.

“The orbits in this system are very well ordered, which tells us that this system has evolved quite gently since its birth,”

explains co-author Yann Alibert from the University of Bern. If the system had been significantly disturbed earlier in its life, for example by a giant impact, this fragile configuration of orbits would not have survived.

Disorder in the rhythmic system

But even if the arrangement of the orbits is neat and well-ordered, the densities of the planets

“are much more disorderly,” says Nathan Hara from the Université de Genève, Switzerland, who was also involved in the study. “It appears there is a planet as dense as the Earth right next to a very fluffy planet with half the density of Neptune, followed by a planet with the density of Neptune. It is not what we are used to.”

In our Solar System, for example, the planets are neatly arranged, with the rocky, denser planets closer to the central star and the fluffy, low-density gas planets farther out.

“This contrast between the rhythmic harmony of the orbital motion and the disorderly densities certainly challenges our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary systems,”

says Leleu.

Combining techniques

To investigate the system’s unusual architecture, the team used data from the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS satellite, alongside the ground-based ESPRESSO instrument on ESO’s VLT and the NGTS and SPECULOOS, both sited at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Since exoplanets are extremely tricky to spot directly with telescopes, astronomers must instead rely on other techniques to detect them. The main methods used are imaging transits — observing the light emitted by the central star, which dims as an exoplanet passes in front of it when observed from the Earth — and radial velocities — observing the star’s light spectrum for small signs of wobbles which happen as the exoplanets move in their orbits. The team used both methods to observe the system: CHEOPS, NGTS and SPECULOOS for transits and ESPRESSO for radial velocities.

By combining the two techniques, astronomers were able to gather key information about the system and its planets, which orbit their central star much closer and much faster than the Earth orbits the Sun. The fastest (the innermost planet) completes an orbit in just a couple of days, while the slowest takes about ten times longer. The six planets have sizes ranging from about one to about three times the size of Earth, while their masses are 1.5 to 30 times the mass of Earth. Some of the planets are rocky, but larger than Earth — these planets are known as Super-Earths. Others are gas planets, like the outer planets in our Solar System, but they are much smaller — these are nicknamed Mini-Neptunes.

Although none of the six exoplanets found lies in the star’s habitable zone, the researchers suggest that, by continuing the resonance chain, they might find additional planets that could exist in or very close to this zone. ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is set to begin operating this decade, will be able to directly image rocky exoplanets in a star’s habitable zone and even characterise their atmospheres, presenting an opportunity to get to know systems like TOI-178 in even greater detail.

More information

This research was presented in the paper “Six transiting planets and a chain of Laplace resonances in TOI-178” to appear in Astronomy & Astrophysics (doi: 10.1051/0004-6361/202039767).

Links

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Space policy roundup – Jan.25.2021

A sampling of links to recent space policy, politics, and government (US and international) related space news and resource items that I found of interest (find previous space policy roundups here):

International space

Webcasts:

** China Aero & Space Weekly News Round-Up – Episode 17 (18th – 24th Jan. 2021)Dongfang Hour – YouTube

1) CASIC Announced Some New Details on their Satellite Factory
2) Announcement of the (mysterious?) Tianxun IoT constellation

3) Jiuzhou Yunjian Announced a Round of Funding
4) Chinese Mars Rover Naming Competition
5) Secondary news of the week:

**The Space Show – Jan.22.2021Dr. Namrata Goswami discussed “space policy in the new administration, China and space, the Asia Pacific space nations and plans, other active space countries, private space and more“.

** The Space Show – Jan.19.2021Dr. Deana Weibel spoke about “Commercial space, space tourism, humanity, faith and more”.

** Speedy Space Delivery – Are We There Yet – Space – 90.7 WMFE

The new [SpaceX Dragon] cargo spacecraft is also bigger and has more power for space-based experiments — a boon for researchers conducting science on the ISS. To talk more about these new capabilities and what that means for space research we speak with Jennifer Buchli, Deputy Chief Scientist for the space station.

Then, SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon isn’t the only spacecraft opening up research opportunities for space-based science. New vehicles and more astronauts are helping bulk up the research capabilities on the orbiting lab. We’ll talk with space policy and research analyst Laura Forczyk about how the commercial sector is helping with research in space.

** Economics in space: trading and the new value of Earth : The Indicator from Planet Money – NPR

One of the most common definitions of economics is the study of the allocation of limited resources: how we use what we have, what we value, and why. There have been plenty of studies done on how economics works on earth. But what about in space?

We talk to NASA astronaut Doug “Wheels” Wheelock, who explains how the principles of economics guided trades of goods and services on the International Space Station. He also describes how his experiences changed how he values things often taken for granted on Earth, like birds, wind, and the rain.

** January 21, 2021 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

** January 20, 2021 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

** Kellie Gerardi on the future of spaceflightBBC Sky at Night Magazine

US space industry professional Kellie Gerardi discusses the trials and tribulations of human spaceflight, the prospect of space tourism and the challenges of putting humans on the Moon and Mars.

** Space Café WebTalk – Martin Coleman – 15. December 2020spacewatch. global – News Room – YouTube

In this week’s Space Cafè WebTalk, Martin Coleman, Member of the Advisory Board at Satcoms Innovation Group, United Kingdom talked about 2020 vision on Space Debris.

Martin Colman talked about the importance of data sharing in the Space Situational Awareness context. He addressed the Space Debris issue from the data site and will share his vision on the current situation in space 2020.

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Saturn as seen by Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera
Saturn as seen by Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera.

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Videos: “Space to Ground” + Other ISS reports – Jan.22.2021

Here is the latest episode in NASA’s Space to Ground weekly report on activities related to the International Space Station:

** Expedition 64 U S Spacewalks 69 and 70 Preview Briefing – January 22, 2021 – NASA

The Expedition 64 Spacewalk Briefing took place at 3 p.m. EDT Friday, January 22, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The briefing participants were; Kenneth Todd, International Space Station Deputy Program Manager, Flight Director Rick Henfling, spacewalk officer Sarah Korona, Flight Director Vincent Lacourt, and spacewalk officer Sandy Fletcher. EVA 69 (extravehicular activity) and EVA 70 are scheduled to install the final lithium-ion battery adapter plate to the station, complete cable routing and antenna rigging on the Bartolomeo science payload platform, configure a Ka-band terminal to enable high-bandwidth communications to European ground stations, and prepare the station for our future power system upgrades. Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover will be the spacewalking crew members, with Hopkins serving as EV1 and wearing red stripes on his suit. These will be his 3rd and 4th spacewalks. Glover will serve as EV2, on his first and second spacewalks and wearing no stripes.

** Expedition 64 – US Spacewalk 69 Animation – January 21, 2021 – NASA

NASA Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover, who flew to the space station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, will conduct two spacewalks, which will be the 233rd and 234th in support of space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades. The Jan. 27 spacewalk will focus on completing cable and antenna rigging for the “Bartolomeo” science payloads platform outside the ESA (European Space Agency) Columbus module. The duo also will configure a Ka-band terminal that will enable an independent, high-bandwidth communication link to European ground stations. After completing the upgrades on the Columbus module, Hopkins and Glover will remove a grapple fixture bracket on the far port (left) truss in preparation for future power system upgrades. Hopkins will be extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1) for both spacewalks, wearing a spacesuit with red stripes, and Glover will be extravehicular crew member 2 (EV 2), wearing a spacesuit with no stripes. These will be the third and fourth spacewalks in Hopkins’ career, and the first and second for Glover.

** Expedition 64 – US Spacewalk 70 Animation – January 21, 2021 – NASA

NASA Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover, who flew to the space station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, will conduct two spacewalks, which will be the 233rd and 234th in support of space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades. The Feb. 1 spacewalk will address a variety of tasks, including installation of a final lithium-ion battery adapter plate on the port 4 (P4) truss that will wrap up battery replacement work begun in January 2017. Hopkins and Glover will remove another grapple fixture bracket on the same truss segment, replace an external camera on the starboard truss, install a new high-definition camera on the Destiny laboratory, and replace components for the Japanese robotic arm’s camera system outside the Kibo module. Hopkins will be extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1) for both spacewalks, wearing a spacesuit with red stripes, and Glover will be extravehicular crew member 2 (EV 2), wearing a spacesuit with no stripes. These will be the third and fourth spacewalks in Hopkins’ career, and the first and second for Glover.

** International Space Station – ISS – SWL Elsie D – MØYKS – Ham Radio

20:05 Zulu 19-1-21 ISS Reception Over N.W Europe

** Tracking The International Space Station ISS (ZARYA) with Dobsonian Telescope 8″ Dob and ZWO 290mm  – AstroNebula

Here is the tracking of the International Space Station ISS (ZARYA) Flyby with my Zhumell Dobsonian Z8 8″ Dob and ZWO 290mm Planetary Camera. The ISS peaked at 53 Degrees. This video is about 2.800 images of the ISS put together with PIPP and exported as an AVI @17 FPS. The .ser file had 27,500 total images, so I was able to capture about 10%. PIPP eliminated any empty frame. You can also see Space X Dragona Attached to it. To follow the ISS, I locked on to it with my TELRAD, then quickly nudged my head over to my Apertura 10×50 RACI illuminated Rectile Eyepiece Finderscope. To see the final image go to my website which is my AstroNebula Dot com. I would of added it to the end of this footage but I didn’t get around to it yet.

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Space policy roundup – Jan.18.2021

A sampling of links to recent space policy, politics, and government (US and international) related space news and resource items that I found of interest (find previous space policy roundups here):

International space

Webcasts:

** China Aero & Space Weekly News Round-Up – Episode 15 (4th – 10th Jan. 2021)Dongfang Hour – YouTube

1) CASC announces plans for 40 launches in 2021 …
2) CMA announces a tender for a low-cost cargo spacecraft: a Chinese COTS/CRS program? …
3) China confirms the feasibility of space-ground quantum key distribution, in publication published in Nature …

(See also the summary: Dongfang Hour China Aerospace News Roundup 4 Jan – 10 Jan 2021 – SpaceWatch.Global)

[ Update: **  China Aero & Space Weekly News Round-Up – Episode 16 (11th – 17th Jan. 2021)Dongfang Hour – YouTube

1) iSpace Announces Plans for an IPO on the Star Board…
2) Several updates on CASC making progress on propulsion technology…
3) US adds 9 Chinese companies to a blacklist, including COMAC and Air China Group…

]

** Where in Space Are We Going in 2021?SETI Institute

Despite everything that happened last year, we still got to do science, and missions still got to launch. We sampled asteroids and the Moon. We cruised around the surface of Mars. We flew by Venus on the way to Mercury. And we launched three more missions to the Red Planet, all of which arrive this year. What else can we look forward to in 2021? Join Franck Marchis and Beth Johnson for a look back at last year’s science and this year’s upcoming missions.

** U.S. Space Command, Innovation and Defending Space AssetsConstellations Podcast

Listen to Brigadier General Leonard, principal advisor to the USSPACECOM Commander and Deputy Commander discuss U.S. Space Command and the importance of innovation in a warfighting environment. Space is a booming business, not only for the American people but booming for the U.S. adversaries. To stay ahead, the U.S. military needs to be innovative in how they think, the technology they use and how they are organized. Brigadier General Leonard talked about innovation being the new competitive advantage and that they must equip and enable their people with an environment where they feel their ideas are valued. Enemies understand that innovation and technology and space capabilities are central to fighting in space and across the joint force, so his team must accelerate their capabilities in those areas. USSPACECOM is not interested in small evolutionary technology, but something that’s really going to be a game changer.

** Episode 48: CubeSat Industry DayAerospace Corp – Center for Space Policy & Strategy (CSPS)

** Bleddyn Bowen – What Will War In Space Really Look Like? – Cold Star Project S02E75Cold Star Technologies – YouTube

Bleddyn Bowen, PhD, is the author of War In Space: Strategy Space Power, Geopolitics. He has a different point of view on space warfare than the typical one we see from fanboys and mechanistic white papers. On this episode of the Cold Star Project, host Jason Kanigan asks Bleddyn:

– How do you operationally define space power? What are the “levers and dials”? What does “winning” mean in this environment?
– What is ‘space warfare’? Why do you believe Clausewitz remains relevant today and in the space domain?
– How does geopolitics apply to space? Are there equalizing forces?
– What international issues should we be paying attention to that could impact space warfare?
– When it comes to the actualities of space warfare, what are the critical elements?
– What is the significance of the new US Space Force?
– Why did you write and publish a book on the topic (War In Space: Strategy, Space Power, Geopolitics)?

Who are you intending to impact, and why? Astropolitics Research Portal: https://astropoliticsblog.wordpress.com/

** The Space Show – Tuesday, Jan.12.2021Rod Pyle and Aggie Kobrin talked about the “Feb. 4th NSS Space Settlement 2021 virtual program, ISDC plans, private and government space programs, plus much more”.

** The Space Show – Sunday, Jan.17.2021 – Open Lines program hosted by David Livingston included discussions of space in 2021.

** January 13, 2021 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

** January 15, 2021 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

** Space Café WebTalk – Martin Coleman – 15. December 2020 spacewatch. global – News Room – YouTube

In this week’s Space Cafè WebTalk, Martin Coleman, Member of the Advisory Board at Satcoms Innovation Group, United Kingdom talked about 2020 vision on Space Debris.

Martin Colman talked about the importance of data sharing in the Space Situational Awareness context. He addressed the Space Debris issue from the data site and will share his vision on the current situation in space 2020.

Martin Colman also answered relevant questions from the audience.

This Space Cafè WebTalk, held on 15 Dezember 2020, was hosted by Torsten Kriening, publisher of SpaceWatch.Global.

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The Space Show this week – Jan.18.2021

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, Jan. 18, 2021; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT: No program today.

2. Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT): We welcome back Dr. Deana Weibel to discuss her latest work on space tourism, space development and faith.

3. Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021: Hotel Mars  – John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston will speak with Anatoly Zak, of RussianSpaceWeb.com, about Russian space developments expected in 2021.

4. Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021; 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT): No program today.

5. Friday, Jan.22, 2021; 9:30-11 am PDT (11:30 am-1 pm CDT, 12:30-2 pm EDT):  We welcome back Dr. Namrata Goswami to discuss national security space, China and space, and space policy in the new administration.

6. Sunday, Jan.24, 2021; 12-1:30 pm PDT (3-4:30 pm EDT, 2-3:30 pm CDT): Welcome back Dr. Abraham (Avi) Loeb to discuss his new book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth [Amazon ad link].

Some recent shows:

** Tuesday, Jan.12.2021Rod Pyle and Aggie Kobrin talked about the “Feb. 4th NSS Space Settlement 2021 virtual program, ISDC plans, private and government space programs, plus much more”.

** Sunday, Jan.17.2021 – Open Lines program hosted by David Livingston included discussions of possible space news and developments in 2021.

** See also:
* The Space Show Archives
* The Space Show Newsletter
* The Space Show Shop

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Space Show - David Livingston
The Space Show – Dr. David Livingston

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