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 The Wildest Alien Planets of 2012

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PostSubject: The Wildest Alien Planets of 2012   Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:20 am

Now I just thought this article was cool so I thought I would share it.

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From massive bodies that fell just short of becoming stars to the tiniest solar systems known, 2012 has brought an array of intriguing exoplanets to light. And double-star systems that once seemed unlikely to host planets have produced a wealth of them this year.

Here's a look at some of the most exciting alien planets discovered in 2012:

Potentially habitable worlds

In the fall of 2012, astronomers announced two new planets, discovered separately, that may

have the potential to support life outside of our solar system. Both planets were found in the habitable zone of their stars, the region where a planet could hold liquid water on its surface. Water is thought to be a key ingredient in the formation of life.

HD 40307g, a "super-Earth" announced in November, is approximately seven times as massive as the planet we live on. The planet, which could be either rocky or a Neptune-like gas giant, sits in the middle of its habitable zone, making it possible for water to exist. [Gallery: 7 Potentially Habitable Exoplanets]

HD 40307g is the most distant of the six planets in its system, taking approximately 200 days to orbit its star. Its distance means that it isn't tidally locked, with one face perpetually turned toward its star, making it more likely to have Earth-like conditions. Because the planet is only 42 light-years away from Earth, it could potentially be imaged by telescopes in the future. Its parent star is smaller and dimmer than the sun.

Gliese 163c also lies within its star's habitable zone, although it skirts the edge. Like HD 40307g, it is approximately seven times the mass of Earth, and could be a large rocky planet or a smaller gas giant. The planet orbits a red dwarf that is slightly dimmer than our sun, flying around it once every 26 days. Depending on its composition, Gliese 163c could host an ocean and a dense atmosphere, or it could be too hot for life to exist.

Both planets were found using the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, or HARPS, the European Southern Observatory's telescope located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Two suns, four stars

A number of double-sun systems were discovered in 2012, but perhaps the most astonishing was found by amateur astronomers. The gas giant PH1 orbits a pair of stars that are part of a four-star system, the first discovery of its kind.

A close binary set of stars with masses about 1.5 and 0.41 times that of the sun, the twin stars at the core of the system dance around each other every 20 days. Two more stars circle the pair at about a thousand times the Earth's distance to the sun.

Circling the central pair once every 138 days, PH1 is a gas giant, with a temperature ranging from 484 degrees Fahrenheit (251 degrees Celsius) to 644 F (340 C). Just bigger than Neptune, the planet could potentially host rocky moons, but such moons would also be too hot for liquid water.

PH1 was discovered by two amateur astronomers participating in the citizen scientist program Planet Hunters. A dip in the light from the system signified the potential presence of a planet, which was then confirmed by a team of professional astronomers.

In addition to being the first planet discovered by Planet Hunters, PH1 is also the first planet found orbiting a double star in a quadruple system and the first planet found in a quadruple system

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