Two planets found sharing one orbit - RiseEarth

Two planets found sharing one orbit

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Lead researcher Jack Lissauer says: "Further study of the light curve of this target produced an alternative interpretation wherein one of the co-orbital candidates (KOI 730.03) has a period that is twice what we originally estimated. We think that this new interpretation, without co-orbital candidates, is more likely to be correct. We will continue to acquire Kepler data and ground-based observations ... so we can reach a better understanding of this interesting, multi-resonant, system."
Buried in the flood of data from the Kepler telescope is a planetary system unlike any seen before. Two of its apparent planets share the same orbit around their star. If the discovery is confirmed, it would bolster a theory that Earth once shared its orbit with a Mars-sized body that later crashed into it, resulting in the moon's formation.

The two planets are part of a four-planet system dubbed KOI-730. They circle their sun-like parent star every 9.8 days at exactly the same orbital distance.

Gravitational "sweet spots" make this possible. When one body (such as a planet) orbits a much more massive body (a star), there are two Lagrange points along the planet's orbit where a third body can orbit stably. These lie 60 degrees ahead of and 60 degrees behind the smaller object. For example, groups of asteroids called Trojans lie at these points along Jupiter's orbit.

In theory, matter in a disc of material around a newborn star could coalesce into so-called "co-orbiting" planets, but no one had spotted evidence of this before. "Systems like this are not common, as this is the only one we have seen," says Jack Lissauer of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Lissauer and colleagues describe the KOI-730 system in a paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal (

 Richard Gott and Edward Belbruno at Princeton University say we may even have evidence of the phenomenon in our own cosmic backyard. The moon is thought to have formed about 50 million years after the birth of the solar system, from the debris of a collision between a Mars-sized body and Earth. Simulations suggest the impactor, dubbed Theia, must have come in at a low speed. According to Gott and Belbruno, this could only have happened if Theia had originated in a leading or trailing Lagrange point along Earth's orbit. The new finds "show the kind of thing we imagined can happen", Gott says.
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