Stellar siblings over 130 light-years away host two systems of teenage planets. Watch to learn how NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite discovered these young worlds and what they might tell us about the evolution of planetary systems everywhere, including our own.
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Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (KBRwyle)
Thanks to data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international collaboration of astronomers has identified four exoplanets, worlds beyond our solar system, orbiting a pair of related young stars called TOI 2076 and TOI 1807.
These worlds may provide scientists with a glimpse of a little-understood stage of planetary evolution.
TOI 2076 and TOI 1807 reside over 130 light-years away with some 30 light-years between them, which places the stars in the northern constellations of Boötes and Canes Venatici, respectively. Both are K-type stars, dwarf stars more orange than our Sun, and around 200 million years old, or less than 5% of the Sun’s age. In 2017, using data from ESA’s (the European Space Agency’s) Gaia satellite, scientists showed that the stars are traveling through space in the same direction.
Astronomers think the stars are too far apart to be orbiting each other, but their shared motion suggests they are related, born from the same cloud of gas.
Both TOI 2076 and TOI 1807 experience stellar flares that are much more energetic and occur much more frequently than those produced by our own Sun.
Scientists discovered three mini-Neptunes, worlds between the diameters of Earth and Neptune, orbiting the star. Innermost planet TOI 2076 b is about three times Earth’s size and circles its star every 10 days. Outer worlds TOI 2076 c and d are both a little over four times larger than Earth, with orbits exceeding 17 days.
TOI 1807 hosts only one known planet, TOI 1807 b, which is about twice Earth’s size and orbits the star in just 13 hours. Exoplanets with such short orbits are rare. TOI 1807 b is the youngest example yet discovered of one of these so-called ultra-short period planets.
Scientists are currently working to measure the planets’ masses, but interference from the hyperactive young stars could make this challenging.
According to theoretical models, planets initially have thick atmospheres left over from their formation in disks of gas and dust around infant stars. In some cases, planets lose their initial atmospheres due to stellar radiation, leaving behind rocky cores. Some of those worlds go on to develop secondary atmospheres through planetary processes like volcanic activity.
The ages of the TOI 2076 and TOI 1807 systems suggest that their planets may be somewhere in the middle of this atmospheric evolution. TOI 2076 b receives 400 times more UV light from its star than Earth does from the Sun – and TOI 1807 b gets around 22,000 times more.
If scientists can discover the planets’ masses, the information could help them determine if missions like NASA’s Hubble and upcoming James Webb space telescopes can study the planets’ atmospheres – if they have them.