Sunday, August 4, 2013

On the Road Toward a Star, Planets Halt Their Migration

Researchers using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope have shown that migrating planets stop their inward journey before reaching their stars, as illustrated in this artist's concept. Jupiter-like planets, called "hot Jupiters" are known to migrate from their star's frigid outer reaches in toward the star and its blistering heat. Dozens of hot Jupiters have been discovered orbiting closely to their stars, whipping around in just days. 

Until now, it was not clear whether these massive planets remain in stable orbits close to their stars or keep marching in closer and closer until they are ultimately consumed. The new work not only demonstrates that the planets stop their migration inward, but also shows how. The tidal, or gravitational, forces acting to circularize the orbits of the planets cause them to cease their inbound travels once they have hit the stable orbits. 

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Mission: Kepler 

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