Newly found planet orbiting local star may have surface water

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kapetyn1Scientists have located a pair of planets in orbit around the red dwarf star called Kapteyn’s Star. This very old star, along with its entire solar system is itself orbiting the Milky Way galaxy in an area known as the galactic halo. The exoplanets are called Kapteyn b and Kapteyn c. The smaller, b, still five times the size of Earth, is in the “Cinderella Zone” of its solar system, meaning it is “not too hot and not too cold” to support known forms of life.

The planets are very old, 11.5 billion years old, ancient compared to the youthful Earth’s 3 billion year age. It formed only 2.3 billions years after the birth of the universe itself. Kapetyn b takes 48 days to complete a “year”, one orbit of its sun. Kapetyn c is much much larger and colder and orbits Kapetyn in 121 days.kapetyn3

The extremely old red dwarf is only 13 light years from Earth. It has been known for more than 100 years, and was originally sighted by Jacobus Kapteyn, a 19th century astronomer from the Netherlands. Kapetyn is among the fastest moving stars in our night sky, and can be seen with any small telescope trained on the Pictor constellation. Pictor is a tiny, dim star grouping in the southern part of the sky, seen in-between the Large Magellanic Cloud and the very bright Canopus star.

kapetyn2Currently, the masses of the new exoplanets, the length of their years, and the distance they orbit from Kapetyn have been determined by observation. Their ages are the result of astronomical understanding of the history of the galactic halo they inhabit. The stars in the halo were once part of a small galaxy that collided with our Milky Way galaxy and was absorbed by it. This collision formed the galactic halo, and flung the Kapetyn solar system, and many others, into a cloud surrounding our galaxy.

Soon new astronomical devices now being built will make measurements of the new planets’ atmosphere, and determine if water is present there, and at what temperature it exists.kapetyn4

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