Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Saturn Discovered

One of the first discoveries after Galileo Galilee  built his telescope in 1610, was the  enormous Saturn's gigantic rings. Now, more than 400 years later, astronomers, using powerful optics, have discovered a much larger planet, some 400 light-years away from Earth, designated J1407b, with rings 200 times the size of Saturn's. 

To give an idea on just how massive this Super-Saturn is If J1407b were in our solar system, it would dominate Earth's nightly sky.

If we could replace Saturn's rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon.      

The astronomers can not of course resolve the huge ring system.  But using a pair of very powerful optical devices with sixteen cameras total, they can observe the effect the rings have on a nearby star.

The star's designation is J1407 a yellow dwarf similar to our sun. Observing the light from J1407, astronomers watched as the star darkened and brightened over a 56 day period.  That's right!
With the enormous size of the rings, the eclipse the astronomers observed lasted 56 days!
Like its rings, J1407b is far larger than Saturn.  In truth not a planet at all but a brown dwarf, a size classification somewhere between a planet and a star, or sub-stellar.  Brown dwarfs are hot but they are not massive enough to fuse hydrogen. Brown dwarf bodies mass about 13 Jupiter masses for a low and 80 Jupiter masses for the upper limit.   

CNN article on Super Saturn   wikipedia Brown Dwarf article                                                                    

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