Three astronomers from the Open University, UK, have made new discoveries that are set to reveal the geology of planet outside our Solar System.
Professor Carole Haswell, Dr Daniel Staab and Dr John Barnes have discovered three new nearby planetary systems. Led by Haswell, the project was funded by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council and includes an international team of researchers.
The research team used the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), a high-precision planet finding spectrograph, on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6m telescope at La Silla in Chile, to detect the planetary systems.
Professor Carole Haswell, Head of Astronomy at The Open University, said: “These new discoveries are very promising for further studies. They should allow us to measure the relationships between the mass, size and composition of planets outside our own Solar System.
“We can now see how planets in general are built, and whether our own planet is typical. For example, we don’t yet know if it is a coincidence that in the Solar System, the Earth and Venus are the biggest rocky objects and have the largest fraction of their mass made of iron.”
The team of researchers studied stars know as DMPP–1, DMPP–2 and DMPP–3. The planets discovered, DMPP-1b, DMPP-1c, DMPP-1d, DMPP-1e, DMPP-2b and DMPP-3Ab. These bodies are very close to their stars and are heated to temperatures of 1100oC – 1800oC. At these temperatures, the temperatures, the atmosphere and the surface of the planet can be lost, and some of this material disperses to form a thin shroud of gas.
Commenting on the most exciting of these new discoveries, Dr John Barnes, a Research Fellow at The Open University, said: “DMPP-3 was a huge surprise, we were looking for a tiny signal indicating an orbiting, low mass planet, but the first thing we found was a huge signal due to a companion star we hadn’t expected!”