It’s nice to see those scalawags over at NASA finally doing something useful with their time; a team running the Kepler observatory recently put down their Shake Weights just long enough to discover the largest collection of planets yet discovered orbiting around a single star. What does this all mean for you? Well, hopefully it all leads to the discovery of something like this.
The single star harnessing these six planets is being called Kepler-11, or “K-Elves” as the other constellations call him in the dope game. Using a telescope that my roommate describes at “huger than sh*t”, the Kepler observatory was busy scoping out the Milky Way when they made their discovery. While watching distant planets and measuring the light levels around each one, the team noticed that Kepler-11’s light curve continued to lower and raise, suggesting that other planets were passing between them and Earth, thus blocking the light curve for various amounts of time. The team suspects Kepler-11 to be identical to our sun in mass and size (that’s a huge b*tch).
One of the challenges faced by the Kepler team is confirming that the periodic dips come from an actual planet, not from another astronomical phenomenon. Because of the tight packing of the planets—their orbital periods range from 10 to 47 days—this task was made much easier; their mutual gravitational interactions cause variations in the precise timing of their transits across the star. By tracking these shifts, researchers were able to confirm that five of the bodies were all orbiting close enough to gravitationally interact, so they must be planets.
The sixth body is quite a bit further out (it orbits the star every 118 days, a period 2.5 times longer than the next closest body)… [arstechnica]
Now the team is most concerned with the destabilizing of the planets and their gravitational interactions. Cramming so many planets into such a small space is a big no-no (pshh, everyone knows that) and the team is theorizing that, in time, the planets may lose their stability in the universe, thus dropping out of space college and living a destitute life among the universe’s other slacker planets.
All in all, the team thinks this discovery can lend a huge help in our understanding of star and planet formation. Up until now, researchers believed that Greek Gods had formed our solar system and that Pluto Nash helped retain safety. These are facts, people. I just report them.