Giant Exoplanet's Rings a 'Super Saturn'

Impressive 30-ring system is 200 times larger than Saturn
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2015 8:35 AM CST
Giant Exoplanet's Rings a 'Super Saturn'
Artist’s conception of the rings circling J1407b. The ring system is so large it manages to eclipse the young sun-like star J1407.   (Courtesy of Ron Miller)

In 2012, scientists discovered a giant exoplanet (one that orbits a star other than our sun) with a ring system so impressive it eclipses its own host star. Now, thanks to a recent eclipse where planet J1407b lined up in front of host star J1407, scientists at the University of Rochester analyzed the way the light signal changed and got a clearer picture of J1407b's ring system. Their findings: It's roughly 200 times as large as the rings around Saturn, each of its more than 30 rings are tens of millions of miles wide, and there are gaps between the concentric rings that suggest the presence of exomoons similar to Saturn's "shepherd" moons. The planet's mass is 10 to 40 times greater than Saturn's.

"You could think of it as kind of a super Saturn," one researcher said. "The details that we see in the light curve are incredible," added another. "The eclipse lasted for several weeks, but you see rapid changes on time scales of tens of minutes as a result of fine structures in the rings." This is the first evidence to support the long-held theory that moons can form from a planet's circling debris, reports Discovery. The findings, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, are the result of a collaboration between the University of Rochester and the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands and use data from the SuperWASP project. (One of eight newly discovered exoplanets is the most similar to Earth yet.)

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