Bizarre alien planets get cozy with each other (+video)
A duo of planets some 1,200 light years from earth have been spotted passing within 1.2 million miles of each other, closer than any other known pair of planets, a new study has found.
(Page 2 of 2)
Kepler-36b probably formed relatively close to the star, while Kepler-36c likely took shape farther out. Astronomers model large-scale migrations that can bring initially far-flung planets much closer together, but the peculiar Kepler-36 system may force some refinements, researchers said.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"These models rely on assumptions that will likely have to be 'tweaked' or refined to account for both b and c's proximity and compositional differences," Carter told SPACE.com via email. "The existence of Kepler-36 may help clarify or invalidate these assumptions."
Both planets are likely too hot to support life as we know it, with Kepler-36b probably sporting lava flows on its surface. They orbit roughly three times closer to their host star, known as Kepler-36a, than the hellishly hot planet Mercury does to our sun. And Kepler-36a is likely a bit hotter than our star, researchers said.
The researchers publish their results Thursday (June 21) in the journal Science.
An impressive sky scene
Every 97 days, Kepler-36b and c experience a conjunction that brings them within just 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) of each other — roughly five times the Earth-moon distance. This would be quite a sight for an observer on the surface of either planet.
"Planet c would appear roughly 2.5 times the size of the full moon when viewed from the surface of planet b. Conversely, planet b would appear about the size of the full moon on planet c," Carter said.
"We can speculate on the appearance of planet c: It may appear slightly more purple that Neptune," he added. "The purple hue owes to absorption of red and yellow by sodium and potassium. There could also be a slight brown tint owing to hazes of photo-disassociated methane."
Such dramatic vistas could well be around for many years to come, researchers said, for the orbits of Kepler-36b and c appear unlikely to change anytime soon.
"We are addressing this in a follow-up paper, but the short answer is that yes, these do appear to be stable on a long timescale," Agol said.
- Kepler Reveals Lots of Planets: Some Habitable?
- 5 Bold Claims of Alien Life
- Gallery: A World of Kepler Planets
Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.