Astronomers have found that the ring system they saw eclipsing a very young Sun-like star — known as J1407 — is of enormous proportions, much larger and heavier than the ring system of Saturn.
The ring system – the first of its kind to be found outside our solar system – was discovered in 2012 by a team led by Eric Mamajek from the University of Rochester.
A new analysis of the data, led by Matthew Kenworthy from the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, shows that the ring system consists of over 30 rings – each of them tens of millions of kms in diameter.
Furthermore, they found gaps in the rings, which indicate that satellites (or exomoons) may have formed.
“The details that we see in the light curve are incredible. The eclipse lasted for several weeks, but you see rapid changes on time scales of tens of minutes as a result of fine structures in the rings,” Kenworthy said.
The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system, he added.
“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,” said Kenworthy.
This planet is much larger than Jupiter or Saturn and its ring system is roughly 200 times larger than Saturn’s rings are today.
“You could think of it as kind of a super Saturn,” said co-author Mamajek, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester.
Astronomers expect that the rings will become thinner in the next several million years and eventually disappear as satellites form from the material in the disks.
The result has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.