Exoplanet Study Suggests our Solar System is the Norm
Source: Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto press release
Cosmic Evolution Posted: 04/14/12
Summary: A new study reveals that planetary orbits around Sun-like stars have a tendency to be strongly aligned, similar to the disk-like alignment of the planets in our own solar system.
Recently, the HARPS spectrograph and the Kepler satellite made a census of the planetary population around stars like our own, revealing a bounty of planetary systems. A follow-up study lead by members of the EXOEarths team (Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto -- CAUP), in collaboration with Geneva University, did a joint analysis of the data which showed that the planetary orbits in a system are strongly aligned, like in a disk, just as we have in our own solar system.
Exoplanets with non-coplanar orbits.
Credit: Ricardo Reis, Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto
The two most effective methods for detecting extrasolar planets are the radial-velocity method and the transit method. The radial-velocity method detects planets through the reflex motion induced by the planet on the star’s velocity on the radial direction (hence the name). This velocity variation is detected through the Doppler effect, the same that leads to a pitch change in the sound of an traveling ambulance. On the other hand, a planetary transit is akin to a mini-eclipse. As a planet travels around the star, its orbit can locate it in front of the star, and the light we collect from the star is reduced because the planet blocks part of it (even though we cannot image the planet).