The Trident Neptune Planetary System has been discovered by a team of scientists, led by Christophe Lovis of the University of Geneva and including Alexandre Correia, of Aveiro University, and Nuno Cardoso Santos, of Lisbon University’s Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. The system is comprised of at least five planets similar to our Neptune and an asteroid belt. The Neptune-like planets are a whopping 13 to 15 times the mass of our planet Earth. They appear to be made of rock and ice, with a layer of hydrogen or helium gas above. The center star of the system is a Sun-like star called HD 10180, 127 light years from our Solar system, in the constellation Hydrus.
These new finds support the Titus-Bode Law, which claims a regular, hidden pattern in the spacing of the orbits of the planets. The planets, it states, will orbit at semi-major axes in an exponential function of planetary sequence. The Titus-Bode Law predicted the orbits of Ceres (the smallest planet in our solar system, located within our asteroid belt) and Uranus, but failed in the prediction of Neptune’s orbit. The objects in this newly found system orbit HD10180 at a rate of 6 days for the innermost, to 600 days for the outlying planets. They are relatively near to their star, by Earth standards, at a distance of .06 to 1.4 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Team leader Lovis indicates a strong possibility of a sixth planet, similar to our Saturn with an orbit of 2200 days, and a seventh, 1.4x the mass of Earth. This last one is thought to be extremely close to the star, with a year being just over what would on Earth be merely a day.
Scientists say we have entered an exciting new era in exoplanet research; that is, the study of planetary systems, as opposed to the study of only individual planets. Gravitational interrelations studied provide insight into long term evolution of planetary systems. Working out of the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile, these astronomers utilized a 3.6 meter telescope with a High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher spectrograph attached. They surmised the locations and masses of the planets by studying, over a period of six years, and including 190 measurements, the “wobble” of the star. The planets discovered have been said to be the richest system of exoplanets ever found.
It is noteworthy that using these same techniques, which can detect bodies with mass five to twenty times that of Earth, a star HD 69830, only 41 light years distant (a light year being approximately 6 trillion miles) has been found likely to have a planet which in theory could support life, were it not for the improbability that water there would not be in liquid form.