Israeli scientist helps discover rare planets

American team including TA University astrophysicist discovers two planets revolving around double suns.

January 12, 2012 05:15
2 minute read.
Double sun

Double sun 311. (photo credit: San Diego University/TAU)

An American team that includes a Tel Aviv University astrophysicist has discovered two distant planets, each of which revolves around a double sun.

The report of the new finding was published in the prestigious journal Nature on Wednesday night. The article was titled: “The Transiting Circumbinary Planets Kepler- 34 and Kepler-35.”

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Prof. Tsevi Mazeh was among the scientists who based their findings on exact measurements carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kepler spacecraft, which was sent to discover new Earthlike planets in distant solar systems.

The new planets are located 5,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus (swan). Kepler-34 revolves around its double sun once every 289 days, while Kepler- 35 does so every 131 days.

The team discovered the planets by examining the measured light emitted by the double suns. Their examination showed that the power of the light declines cyclically, testifying to the existence of planets revolving around them.

Mazeh explained that together with a planet called Kepler-16, which was discovered a few months ago and also travels around a double sun, there are three known systems like this.

“We can estimate that the systems of the two suns and a planet revolving around them are common phenomena in the galaxy,” he said.

“The importance of the discovery is that most of the suns in the universe exist as pairs, like people. It is as if the stars say: It is not good for a star to be alone. I will create a help-meet for it.”

Life on such a planet can be very interesting, he continued.

“For some of the ‘sunsets,’ one sun will descend first and then a twilight period can occur. Only after that does the sun set, followed by night,” Mazeh said.

“Every sun revolves against its mate in a regular cyclical pattern. Thus, it changes its distance from the planet [and] the temperature on the face of the planet in the double sun system changes much more rapidly than on our Earth.”

Every newly discovered planet is a new world that appears behind the horizon and has a piece of information in solving the creation and development of planets, he concluded.

Although new discoveries are exciting, this one is especially so because the planets are so different from what we are accustomed to on Earth.

“Many have tried to find planets revolving around other suns, but only now – with the dispatch of Kepler and the accurate data it supplies – have the new discoveries been made possible.”

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