A unique star system discovered by the Kepler space telescope

The Kepler-11 star system
The Kepler-11 star system (picture NASA)

The Kepler space telescope is discovering many new star systems: among them there’s one at about 2,000 light years from Earth whose star has been called Kepler-11.

The Kepler-11 planetary system is truly remarkable because it has 6 planets with orbits very close to those of a star like the Sun. All the planets have a mass greater than Earth’s and the larger ones have a mass comparable to Uranus’ and Neptune’s.

The outermost planet in the Kepler-11 system has a distance from the star which is about half of Earth’s distance from the Sun so in our solar system it would orbit between Mercury and Venus with a year that lasts about 118 days.

The other planets are so close to Kepler-11 that in our solar system they’d orbit between Mercury and the Sun and their years ranges from 10 to 47 days.

Given the proximity of these planets to Kepler-11 it can happen that two or more of them pass in front of the star at the same time as shown in the picture’s reconstruction of that star system.

The Kepler-11 planets are among the smallest ever discovered outside our solar system so far. Data analysis shows that they are made of rocky material but also of gas with the possibility that there’s water as well.

The observation and analysis of the Kepler-11 system is far from over: each passing of the planets in front of their star allows the recording of new data and such a unique star system provides an extraordinary opportunity to obtain a significant amount of quality data.

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It’s possible that the space telescope Kepler will find other planets orbiting Kepler-11 in normal positions – granted that our current concept of normal star system may be due simply to a limited amount of information – and the observations could tell us if one of the planets is suitable to host life.

Evn if the Kepler-11 system should be proven to be dead and interesting only from an astronomical point of view the Kepler space telescope is constantly finding new planets orbiting various stars and many will be examined to see if they can be candidates for hosting life forms of our type. The search continues.

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