In a discovery that increases the chances of finding alien life, Australian National University (ANU) researchers have found out that planetary systems around distant stars are shaped like our own solar system. The planets tend to be aligned in a flat plane, which overturns the current scientific assumption that planets form a flare around the star, the orbits tracing the shape of a funnel like the ends of bell-bottom pants.

Image: Nasa
The Trappist-1 exoplanets. Image: Nasa

Nasa’s discovery of seven exoplanets around the Trappist-1 star which are all earth sized supports the findings by the ANU scientists. Dr Lineweaver from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA) says, “Other planet systems in the Universe seem to be much like our Solar System. The more we find out about these planet systems the more it seems the Solar System is unexceptional.”

Charley Lineweaver_Stuart Hay
Dr Lineweaver. Image: ANU/ Stuart Hay

The research is being published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and is available online. The lead author of the paper, RSAA PhD student Tim Bovaird says, “The wealth of the Kepler planet data allows for the first time detailed studies of planet systems outside the Solar System. We are now able to ask and answer questions like, how common are planet systems like our own?”

The planets in our Solar System are mostly on a flat plane. Image: Nasa.
The planets in our Solar System are mostly on a flat plane. Image: Nasa.

The new research will demote a concept known as the Kepler Dichotomy, and promote more realistic models of planetary systems. The Kepler Dichotomy assumes that there are two types of stars, one with a single planet, and another type with multiple planets in orbit. This assumption lead to simulations where planetary systems would form the flared shape. The assumption is odd as the inner planets of the solar system are in a flat plane. Once the assumption is dropped, the simulations match the actual observations.

The Trappist-1 System. Image: Nasa.
The Trappist-1 System. Image: Nasa.

Nasa’s discovery of seven Earth sized exoplanets in orbit around a single star, with the possibility that all of them could have liquid water, is in itself a major step forward in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Astronomers have collected a large dataset of observations from a remote telescope in Hawaii, but cannot process all the data on their own, and have asked enthusiasts and volunteers to scan through the data. This means that you can make the next big exoplanet discovery from the comfort of your home.

Publish date: March 2, 2017 3:10 pm| Modified date: March 2, 2017 3:10 pm

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