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Giant rings encircle young exoplanet

Stretching 90 million kilometers from their center, stripes of dust probably crafted by moons

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10:00am, February 1, 2015
Exoplanet J1407b

RING AROUND THE PLANET   Thirty-seven rings sculpted by unseen moons surround the exoplanet J1407b in this artist’s illustration.

Move over, Saturn. The rings around exoplanet J1407b have got you beat by a long shot. Thirty-seven rings extending 90 million kilometers from the planet — over half the distance from the Earth to the sun — encircle the world. These planetary rings are the first found outside the solar system.

The rings are probably shaped by moons forming around the young planet, which is 434 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. One large gap in the rings is probably being cleared by a moon less than 80 percent the mass of Earth, astronomers report January 23 on arXiv.org.

Researchers mapped the rings using data from the SuperWASP project, a pair of observatories in the Canary Islands and South Africa. Scientists first reported the rings in 2012, when the unseen planet passed between Earth and its star, casting a series of shadows toward Earth that lasted for 56 days.

Scientists suspect that rings may be common

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