Thursday, November 16, 2017

Weird Planets 10

Good morning! Congratulations on completing the first 9 installments of your tour. We don’t have as many worlds to visit as yesterday, so there will be ample time to relax. If you want a pillow or beverage, press the blue button on your arm rest, and either CXQ-9 or CXQ-10 will tend to you. Now, if everybody is comfortable, we’ll get started.

Excuse me. I’m sorry to disturb you, but we are entering the system of today’s first planet. If you turn your attention to your viewers, currently on their maximum magnification, you’ll see a small deep-pink blob. This is GJ-504b, the Pink Planet, 57.3 light years from Earth. The dark pink glow of GJ-504b is caused by the remaining heat of its formation. It’s about the same size as Jupiter, but it’s further from its sun than Neptune is from ours. Scientists didn’t think such a large planet could form at that distance because there wouldn’t be enough dust and debris. Your viewers will adjust their magnification as we approach and swing past, so you can get a good look.

Your attention, please. We are now 434 light-years from Earth, approaching planet J1407B, which is described as a ‘Super-Saturn’. It has a mass of 40 Jupiters and 37 rings surround it, spanning 120 million kilometres. That’s about 200 times the size of Saturn’s rings. Some scientists think these rings may be in the process of forming moons, which has them quite excited, since they’ve never seen that happen outside of our solar system. Actually, even within our system, we haven’t seen it happen.

CXQ-9 and -10 will serve brunch as we move on, complete with champagne! Enjoy!

Good afternoon! Your viewers are currently showing KOI-314c, the lightest planet to have both its mass and physical size measured. Rather surprisingly, it has the same mass as Earth, but is 60% larger in diameter. If you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you will still weigh 100 pounds on KOI-314c. However, the larger diameter seems to indicate a very thick atmosphere. If you look slightly to the left of the planet’s image, you’ll see the red dwarf star that it orbits. This system is about 200 light-years from Earth. Yes, we are already headed back to the tour station.

This is our final viewing for today. This is Epsilon Eridani b, which orbits an orange Sun-like star only 10.5 light years from Earth. Before long, Earth telescopes may be able to photograph it directly. Unfortunately, it is too far from its star to have liquid water or life as we know it. However, I’m going I’ll make a couple low orbits around it and set your viewers on maximum, and you can all try to spot life as we don’t know it!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have returned to the tour station. I hope you have enjoyed your day with Star Tours. Er, I mean, Planet Tours.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Weird Planets 9

How many are here for Leg 9 of the Weird Planets Tour? All of you? Okay, we’ll get started. Frankly, a lot of people stay in their hotel room for this day. After 8 straight days of viewing planets, they feel they’ve seen all the possibilities. I prefer to think that each planet has something that makes it unique. Everybody secured? Here we go.

Today we’re going to visit planets and systems discovered by the Kepler Telescope, which was the first unit designed and launched specifically to look for xenoplanets. Our first stop is the Kepler-11 system. Take a look; there are at least 5 planets, although sometimes I swear there’s 6. And they’re all packed in real close to their parent star. If this were the Earth system, all of them would be within Mercury’s orbit. And yet, this system is stable; they aren’t playing havoc with each other’s orbits. When this system was first discovered, a lot of scientists revisited the ideas about planet formation. And Kepler-11 also suggested that systems with multiple small planets might be common. It makes the Earth system a little less unique, but ups the possibility that other intelligent beings – or at least life of some kind – will eventually be found.

At about that same time, the Kepler Telescope discovered Kepler-10c, a mega-Earth planet that some called the “Godzilla of Earths”. 10c is 2.3 times the size of Earth, and 17 times heavier. I think that means if you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, on 10c you would weigh 1,700 pounds. You couldn’t stand up on 10c. You wouldn’t have enough muscles to do it. Now, 10c has a sibling, Kepler-10b, which is a lava world. We’ll catch a glance of that on our way out. The Kepler-10 system is 570 light years from Earth, and is located in the constellation Draco. Considering the naming practice, there should also be a planet called Kepler-10a. I keep asking about it, but they never add any notes about that planet, if it even exists.

In front of us, you can see a double star. Orbiting around both stars is a circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b, which some have nick-named “Tatooine”. You’ve already visited the other so-called “Tatooine”, haven’t you? In a trinary star system? Yes, that earlier 1 only orbits one of the 3 stars, so the chances of any occupants actually seeing 2 suns setting at the same time are pretty slim, but on Kepler-16b, that could be possible.

Our next planet is Kepler-22b. Yes, ma’am, I’m sure there were discoveries between 16 and 22, but they haven’t given me any information on them. They carefully pick which planets to have you view. I’m afraid we couldn’t possibly visit every planet that’s been discovered. At this point, there are thousands of them, and it would take years, even if we managed several in 1 day.

The next planet is Kepler-22b. This planet is in its system’s habitable zone, and could possibly be an actual water world, which we don’t have in Earth’s system.

A short hop away is the Kepler-36 system. Do you see the 2 planets? Just 2, and their orbits are extremely close to each other. At their closest, the distance between them is 1.2 million miles, which is only 5 times the distance between the Earth and her moon. That might make colonizing easier than Earth had in colonizing Mars.

And now we skip all the way to Kepler-186f. Does anything look familiar about this planet? Some people think there is, even if they can’t say what. Kepler-186f was the first rocky planet found in the habitable zone, so the temperature is right for liquid water. It’s also very close in size to Earth. It always makes me want to land and see what might live there. But we have to keep moving, or we’ll never get done.

Here we have the Kepler-444 system, the oldest known planetary system. Here we have no less than 5 terrestrial-sized planets, all in orbital resonance. This group shows that solar systems have formed and existed in our galaxy for nearly its entire life.

Kepler-452b is the first Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. So it might look even more familiar than 186f did. 452b is only 60% larger than Earth, and 5% further from its star. Following our earlier logic, if you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, here you would weigh 160 pounds, which would be tiring, but do-able. And if a typical day on Earth got to 100°, here it might get to 95°. But there are a lot of things that have an influence on a planet’s temperature, so I’m not absolutely certain of that last statement. Still, at first glance, it certainly sounds inviting.

And now, just one last pause on our way back to the station. As you may know, the Kepler Telescope developed a technical problem, which scientists ‘fixed’, sort of, but its mission had to be modified to accommodate its somewhat limited capability. At that point, they stopped using ‘Kepler’ in the naming ritual and started using ‘K2’, to indicate these discoveries were made after its mission was modified.

This is the K2-3 system. We’re a bit late getting back, so we won’t stop here long. K2-3 has 3 super-Earths in orbit. If you check today’s pamphlet, the mass and radius of each is listed. The home office keeps promising to include updates on their atmosphere compositions, so if you see that information, I’d appreciate you letting me know.

And here we are. I apologize for a long day, but Leg 9 always takes longer than the home office thinks it should. Have a pleasant evening and get a good night’s sleep.