Kepler-90: A planetary system like our own
If you’re ever tooling around 2,500 light years from Earth, and you’re feeling lonely, have I got a home away from home for you.
Scientists have identified a star, named Kepler-90, with seven planets around it. And what’s even cooler is that the planetary system around the star looks a heck of a lot like ours.
The star itself also looks a lot like our Sun — it’s only 10% bigger and is about the same color. And since it is 2,500 light years away you can stare directly at it. Forever, if you’d like. Although you’ll need a decent telescope to see it.
Anyway, Kepler-90 has seven planets, and the five smallest, likely rocky worlds are nearest the star. Three of these planets have orbital periods around the Sun of 59, 210 and 331 days, which are similar to the periods of Mercury, Venus and Earth.
The two outer planets are gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn, in our own solar system.
Interestingly, as astronomers using the Kepler Space Telescope have begun to identify planets around other stars they have found all sorts of configurations, like gas giants near the star, all gas giants, lots of rocky planets clustered very near the star. No system looks the same.
The stunning diversity of planetary systems astronomers have found basically means that any theories the had about how these systems form are wrong.
And in science, it’s OK to be wrong. Which is in and of itself a beautiful idea.