Yet another piece of evidence that our world is not as unique as we feared: There's a solar system out there that's like ours in one extremely vital respect, according to a group of scientists from MIT and the University of California at Santa Cruz.
The solar system, Kepler-30, has planets that travel along regularly aligned orbits. At the center of this solar system is the star Kepler-30a, with three planets traveling around it. The planets, dubbed Kepler-30b, 30c, and 30d, each follow orbiting paths similar to the ones Earth, Mars, or Jupiter travel as they dance around Sun.
Stable planetary orbits are exciting, as astronomers think stability of orbit is key for the existence of life. These planets are located within the Lyra constellation, the same constellation that holds the fictional planet K-PAX from the Kevin Spacey movie of the same name.
Researchers made the discovery while sifting through data obtained by the Kepler Space Telescope. The Kepler Space Telescope currently takes data on over 150,000 stars, with most astronomers gleaning the data in hopes of discovery exoplanets.
While analyzing the data from Kepler, the researchers honed in on a Sun-like star, Kepler-30a. By observing the location of several sunspots on Kepler, the scientists determined the alignment of the planets orbiting the solar system Kepler-30.
Co-author Joshua Winn spoke conservatively on linking the discover to our solar system:
We've been hungry for one like this, where it's not exactly like the solar system, but at least it's more normal, where the planets and the star are aligned with each other. [...] It's the first case where we can say that, besides the solar system.
In an official press release from NASA, Winn added:
It's telling me that the solar system isn't some fluke. [...] The fact that the sun's rotation is lined up with the planets' orbits, that's probably not some freak coincidence.
The newly discovered exoplanetary solar system Kepler-30 is not a carbon copy of ours, however. There are only three planets circling Kepler-30a versus the eight (or nine if you are a Pluto stalwart) circling our Sun.
The size of the planets orbiting Kepler-30a is under debate, with their complete orbital period needing additional study. Regardless, the discovery of the Kepler-30 system is exciting, possibly putting us one step closer to determining the conditions necessary for life or maybe — just maybe locating some distant friends in the universe.
Check out the full article, Alignment of the stellar spin with the orbits of a three-planet system, published this week in Nature. Image of the Kepler Space Telescope are from the NASA Ames Research Center. Images by Cristina Sanchis Ojeda/Ames Research Center.