Ringed, Rocky Alien Planets May Hide in Plain Sight

Space.com | 5/21/2018 | Staff
AavyAavy (Posted by) Level 4
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Astronomers may have unknowingly discovered rocky planets with rings, which they mistook for other kinds of worlds, a new study finds.

Rings surround all this solar system's gas giant planets; they most famously wrap around Saturn, but also encircle Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus. In contrast, the solar system's rocky planets all currently lack rings.

Astronomers - Rings - Planets - Stars - Effects

Astronomers could search for rings around rocky planets orbiting distant stars by looking for subtle effects that such rings would have as the planets passed in front of their stars from the viewpoint of Earth. Such rings could make these worlds look as if they are wider than they actually are, Piro said. That's why astronomers might have mistaken the ringed planets for another type of world.

"Scientists have investigated the idea of rings around exoplanets that are like the giant planets in our solar system, but the idea of having rocky rings around more Earth-like planets has received less focus," Piro said.

Piro - Exoplanets - Rings - Astronomers - Worlds

Piro calculated how rocky exoplanets with rings might appear to astronomers as the worlds pass in front of stars. He found that rocky, ringed worlds might look like so-called sub-Neptune planets, a kind of world not seen in Earth's solar system. Sub-Neptunes are more than 1.6 times Earth's diameter but are smaller than Neptune, which is about 3.9 times Earth's diameter.

Most sub-Neptunes detected so far have low densities, which suggests they are not purely rocky, and scientists had suggested these planets had puffy, gaseous atmospheres rich in hydrogen and helium. However, Piro suggested that some worlds that looked like sub-Neptunes might actually be rocky planets with rings, and thus seem to have low densities because of the vast empty space between their surfaces and their rings.

Exoplanets - Diameter - Density - Earth - Piro

Given rocky exoplanets each roughly the diameter and density of Earth, Piro calculated that rings with about 100 times the mass of...
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