Astronomers unravel mysteries of planet formation and evolution in distant planetary system | Science & Technology

A recently discovered solar system with six confirmed exoplanets and a possible seventh is boosting astronomers’ knowledge of planet formation and evolution. Relying on a globe-spanning arsenal of observatories and instruments, a team led by researchers at the University of California, Irvine has compiled the most precise measurements yet of the exoplanets’ masses, orbital properties and atmospheric characteristics.

In a paper published today in The Astronomical Journal, the researchers share the results of the TESS-Keck Survey, providing a thorough description of the exoplanets orbiting TOI-1136, a dwarf star in the Milky Way galaxy more than 270 light years from Earth. The study is a follow-up to the team’s initial observation of the star and exoplanets in 2019 using data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. That project provided the first estimate of the exoplanets’ masses by clocking transit timing variations, a measure of the gravitational pull that orbiting planets exert on one another.

For the most recent study, the researchers joined TTV data with a radial velocity analysis of the star. Using the Automated Planet Finder telescope at the Lick Observatory on California’s Mount Hamilton and the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer at the W.M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, they could detect slight variations in stellar motion via the redshift and blueshift of the Doppler effect — which helped them determine planetary mass readings of unprecedented precision.

To obtain such exact information on the planets in this solar system, the team built computer models using hundreds of radial velocity measurements layered over TTV data. Lead author Corey Beard, a UCI Ph.D. candidate in physics, said that combining these two types of readings yielded more knowledge about the system than ever before.

“It took a lot of trial and error, but we were really happy with our results after developing one of the most complicated planetary system models in…

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