The four planets of the Kepler-223 star system seem to have little in common with the planets of Earth's own solar system. And yet a new study shows that the Kepler-223 system is trapped in an orbital configuration that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune may have broken from in the early history of the solar system.
"Exactly how and where planets form is an outstanding question in planetary science," said the study's lead author, Sean Mills, a graduate student in astronomy & astrophysics at the University of Chicago. "Our work essentially tests a model for planet formation for a type of planet we don't have in our solar system."
These puffy, gaseous planets, far more massive than Earth, orbit close to their stars. "That's why there's a big debate about how they form, how they got there, and why don't we have one," Mills said.
Mills and his collaborators used brightness data from NASA's Kepler telescope to analyze how the four planets block the starlight and change each other's orbits, thus inferring the planets' sizes and masses. The team performed numerical simulations of planetary migration that generate this system's current architecture, similar to the migration suspected for the solar system's gas giants. These calculations are described in the May 11 Advance Online edition of Nature.