The density difference of sub-Neptunes finally deciphered | Science & Technology

The majority of stars in our galaxy are home to planets. The most abundant are the sub-Neptunes, planets between the size of Earth and Neptune. Calculating their density poses a problem for scientists: depending on the method used to measure their mass, two populations are highlighted, the dense and the less dense. Is this due to an observational bias or the physical existence of two distinct populations of sub-Neptunes? Recent work by the NCCR PlanetS, the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the University of Bern (UNIBE) argues for the latter. Find out more in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Exoplanets are abundant in our galaxy. The most common are those between the radius of the Earth (around 6,400 km) and Neptune (around 25,000 km), known as ”sub-Neptunes”. It is estimated that 30% to 50% of sun-like stars contain at least one of these.

Calculating the density of these planets is a scientific challenge. To estimate their density, we must first measure their mass and radius. Problem: planets whose mass is measured by the TTV (Transit-Timing Variation) method are less dense than planets whose mass has been measured by the radial velocity method, the other possible measurement method.

”The TTV method involves measuring variations in transit timing. Gravitational interactions between planets in the same system will slightly modify the moment at which the planets pass in front of their star,” explains Jean-Baptiste Delisle, scientific collaborator in the Astronomy Department of the UNIGE Faculty of Science and co-author of the study. ”The radial velocity method, on the other hand, involves measuring the variations in the star’s velocity induced by the presence of the planet around it”.

Eliminating any bias

An international team led by scientists from NCCR PlanetS, UNIGE and UNIBE has published a study explaining this phenomenon. It is due not to selection or observational biases, but to physical reasons. ”The majority of systems measured by the TTV…

Source www.sciencedaily.com

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