Astronomers Find Planetary "Odd Couple," Prove That Opposites Attract

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An artist rendition of how you would see Kepler-36c if Earth was 36b. [Credit: NASA and Frank Melchior]
NASA's Kepler space telescope finds all sorts of fascinating planets located many light years from Earth, from potentially habitable planets to those orbiting two suns. However, its newest discovery has to be the most interesting: a pair of planets that orbit extremely close together.

The discovery came via researchers at the University of Washington (Seattle) and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, who studied data from the telescope using a specialized algorithm. The planetary best buddies, which are 1200 light years from Earth, travel around their star along slightly different orbits--the inner planet, named Kepler-36b, completes its orbit in 13.6 days, while the outer planet Kepler-36c does so every 16.2 days.

Although the two planets are relatively close to each other (astronomically speaking), their orbits lie 1.2 million miles apart, so there's no danger of the two colliding anytime soon. According to NASA, the narrowest gap between the orbits of any two planets in our solar system is about 20 times greater than that of Kepler-36b and 36c.

While the Kepler buddies may be close, they are actually quite different. Kepler-36b is a rocky planet that's about 4.5 times bigger than Earth, while Kepler-36c is of gaseous or liquid density, and is 8.1 times the size of our planet. One thing they do have in common, though, is due to how close they orbit their sun, they aren't particularly habitable. This isn't helped by the fact their host star is hotter than ours (and billions of years older).

To find additional artist renderings of Kepler-36b and Kepler-36c, and to learn more about Kepler telescope missions, visit the NASA website.

[University of Washington via NASA]

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