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Beyond Earthly Skies

Signature of a Giant Planet’s Rocky Core

25 Jul 2014, 22:00 UTC
Signature of a Giant Planet’s Rocky Core
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Stars in binary systems generally have identical chemical compositions since they formed from the same natal cloud of material. Nevertheless, small differences in chemical composition can exist between a pair of stars in a binary system and one explanation is the process of planet formation. When planets form around a star, it can cause the star to be slightly depleted in heavy elements (i.e. elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) compared to its companion star.Observations of 16 Cygni, a binary system comprised of two stars 16 Cygni A and 16 Cygni B (hereafter components A and B), reveal that component B has a giant planet with at least 1.5 times Jupiter’s mass. The giant planet, identified as 16 Cygni Bb, orbits its host star in a highly-eccentric 800-day orbit. At its minimum and maximum distances from its host star, the giant planet receives, respectively, 4.4 and 0.16 times the amount of insolation Earth gets from the Sun. Being a giant planet, 16 Cygni Bb is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, much like Jupiter.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of a giant planet with a system of moons around it.Figure 2: Differences in heavy element abundance between components A and B versus ...

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