Scientists working with NASA’s Kepler space observatory have been making some incredible discoveries of late. The Kepler space observatory was placed in orbit around the sun to observe planets orbiting other stars, and so far it hasn’t disappointed.
While I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t report on every Kepler discovery (doing so would be a full-time job, and this clearly falls within the bounds of astronomy rather than science fiction), I couldn’t resist giving this little beauty a mention.
Thanks to Kepler, a team working in Austin Texas have discovered a miniature star system, including three of the smallest extra-solar planets so far discovered.
“This is the most compact system of planets. It’s like you have a shrink raygun and set it to seven times smaller and zapped a planetary system.” – John Johnson, California Institute of Technology
The star itself (KOI-961) is only 70% larger than Jupiter, making it closer in size to a gas giant than it is to our own sun.
Orbiting the red dwarf star are three planets (KOI-961.01, KOI-961.02 and KOI-961.03), all of which are smaller than the Earth. The smallest, KOI-961.03, is roughly the size of Mars. The three planets are all too hot to support life, falling well short of the system’s habitable zone, but the discovery is fascinating all the same.
“It’s actually more similar to Jupiter and its moons in scale than any other star system” – John Johnson, California Institute of Technology
This graphic shows the three planets of the KOI-961 star system in comparison to Earth and Mars, and other small extra-solar planets.
It is thought that there may be many more ‘miniature’ star systems like this out there in the galaxy – an interesting concept for all science fiction writers to consider.
Could a miniature star system be home to a miniature civilization of miniature aliens? Now, that would be just plain silly!
Reference source: Space.com