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Indian-origin Researcher part of Team that Discovered Mars-sized object Lurking at Edge of Solar System

Something unknown is warping the average orbital plane of the outer solar system

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Mars-sized planetary mass object lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Pixabay
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New York, June 26, 2017: Researchers, including one of the Indian-origin, have found evidence of an unknown, Mars-sized “planetary mass object” lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. This object would be different from — and much closer than — the so-called Planet Nine, a planet whose existence yet awaits confirmation, according to the study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Astronomical Journal.

In the paper, Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) present compelling evidence of a yet-to-be-discovered planetary body with a mass somewhere between that of Mars and Earth. The mysterious mass, the authors showed, has given away its presence — for now — only by controlling the orbital planes of a population of space rocks known as Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO), in the icy outskirts of the solar system.

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While most KBOs — debris left over from the formation of the solar system — orbit the Sun with orbital tilts (inclinations) that average out to what planetary scientists call the invariable plane of the solar system, the most distant of the Kuiper Belt’s objects do not. Their average plane, Volk and Malhotra discovered, is tilted away from the invariable plane by about eight degrees. In other words, something unknown is warping the average orbital plane of the outer solar system. “The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass,” says Volk, a postdoctoral fellow at LPL and the lead author of the study.

“According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured,” Volk said. For the study, Volk and Malhotra analysed the tilt angles of the orbital planes of more than 600 objects in the Kuiper Belt in order to determine the common direction about which these orbital planes all precess. Precession refers to the slow change or “wobble” in the orientation of a rotating object. (IANS)

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Water-Rich Planets Commonly Found Outside The Solar System, Study Reveals

The researchers believe that these water worlds likely formed in similar ways to the giant planet cores (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) which we find in our own solar system

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Water-rich planets outside our solar system common: Study. Pixabay

Water is likely to be a major component of those exoplanets which are between two to four times the size of Earth, suggests new research that may have implications for the search of life in our solar system.

Water has been implied previously on individual exoplanets, but this work, presented at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston, Massachusetts, concludes that water-rich planets outside our solar system are common.

The new research, based on data from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission, indicates that many of the known planets may contain as much as 50 per cent water, which is much more than the Earth’s 0.02 per cent (by weight) water content.

“It was a huge surprise to realise that there must be so many water-worlds,” said lead researcher Li Zeng of Harvard University.

Scientists have found that many of the 4,000 confirmed or candidate exoplanets discovered so far fall into two size categories — those with the planetary radius averaging around 1.5 times that of the Earth, and those averaging around 2.5 times the radius of the Earth.

Solar system
Solar system. Pixabay

For this study, the scientists developed a model for internal structures of the exoplanets after analysing the exoplanets with mass measurements and recent radius measurements from the Gaia satellite.

“We have looked at how mass relates to radius, and developed a model which might explain the relationship”, said Li Zeng.

“The model indicates that those exoplanets which have a radius of around x1.5 Earth radius tend to be rocky planets (of typically x5 the mass of the Earth), while those with a radius of x2.5 Earth radius (with a mass around x10 that of the Earth) are probably water worlds,” he added.

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“Our data indicate that about 35 per cent of all known exoplanets which are bigger than Earth should be water-rich,” he said, adding that surface of these exoplanets may be shrouded in a water-vapour-dominated atmosphere, with a liquid water layer underneath.

The researchers believe that these water worlds likely formed in similar ways to the giant planet cores (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) which we find in our own solar system. (IANS)