It has been thirty years since the first exoplanets were detected. Just as Beth and I graduated from high school, scientists announced the discovery of at least three rocky planets orbiting a pulsar cataloged as PSR B1257+12. In the years since that wild discovery, only a handful of pulsars have been found to host exoplanets. And these pulsars do not seem like good places to have planets anyway. The violent conditions that go along with pulsars – including jets of high-energy particles getting released like rail guns at regular intervals – have led to exotic planets, including one made of diamond.
Still, despite the low rate of detection, that hasn’t stopped scientists from looking, and now a group of astronomers has conducted the largest search yet for exoplanets orbiting pulsars. The results were presented at the National Astronomy Meeting earlier this week. Per the press release: …the team looked for signals that indicate the presence of planetary companions with masses up to 100 times that of the Earth, and orbital time periods between 20 days and 17 years.
And they found ten potential detections. The most promising are two possible planets orbiting pulsar PSR J2007+3120 which have potential orbits of 1.9 and 3.6 years. And while the research didn’t find evidence of any particular bias for planet mass or orbital period, many of the planets have highly elliptical orbits. That result indicates that the formation process may be very different from traditional star systems like our own.
It’s kind of amazing that we haven’t really researched these strange planets in all this time, but we’re excited to see where this research leads.
RAS press release