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February 27, 2011

We May Be More Normal Than We Think

Two weeks ago, scientists discovered a solar system about 5,000 light years away that closely resembles ours. Even from such a great distance, they were able to determine that the parent star is about half the size of our sun, and two large planets orbit it: one about two-thirds the size of Jupiter and one about 90% the size of Saturn, both having an orbit about half the size of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. These scientists say that there is a good possibility of smaller Earth-like planets closer to the parent star that remain undetected.

One interesting note about this discovery is the method used for detection. Frequently, distant planets are discovered by the wobble method where the gravitational pull of a large planet on the parent star is detected. This leads to scientists finding many systems where there is a Jupiter-size planet orbiting its star at about the distance from Mercury to the sun (because there is a lot of gravitation pull). However, this particular solar system was discovered by microlensing. The parent star of this solar system passed in front of another star (from our point of view) thousands of light years away, and the gravity of the nearer star bent and magnified light from the other one, causing it to "flash". Through data recorded during this flash, scientists were able to determine the approximate size and orbit of two large planets around this star.

The exciting part of this discovery is that it is difficult to detect planets like this through microlensing, so the fact that it was just accomplished may mean that there are many of these similar solar systems out there. This means that our solar system could be pretty normal, and it gives more clues for where to search for possible life in other solar systems.

This information is from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/science/space/15planets.html

Posted by emslade at February 27, 2011 04:30 PM


I'm amazed by the continual potential for discovery of other solar systems, and this article is just another reminder of how enormous our universe is. It's so cool to think that this new solar system seems so similar to ours. The new technology used to detect this solar system is just as exciting as the discovery itself, because microlensing could potentially open doors to many similar findings in the future.

Posted by: hallsar at February 27, 2011 11:13 PM

It is truly incredible how much potential there is for other solar systems and planets in our universe. Sometimes, it is really hard to gauge how large our universe really is, and I think this article really puts it into perspective. It's interesting how similar this solar system appears to be with our own solar system, and I can't wait to see if through microlensing they can discover some more earth-like planets that would really give way to the theory that this solar system closely resembles our own.

Posted by: nikraman at February 28, 2011 11:27 PM

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