A duo of planets some 1,200 light years from earth have been spotted passing within 1.2 million miles of each other, closer than any other known pair of planets, a new study has found.
It is science fiction made fact: Astronomers have discovered two alien planets around the same star whose orbits come so close together that each rises in the night sky of its sister world like an exotic full moon.
The newfound planets are 1,200 light-years from Earth and an unprecedented find, researchers said. They differ greatly in size and composition but come within just 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers) of each other, closer than any other pair of planets known, according to a new study.
One of the newly discovered alien planets, called Kepler-36b, appears to be a rocky "super-Earth" 4.5 times as massive as our planet. The other, Kepler-36c, is a gaseous, Neptune-size world about eight times as massive as Earth. The two planets meet up every 97 days in a conjunction that would make each dramatically visible in the other's sky.
“These two worlds are having close encounters,” said co-lead author Josh Carter, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement.
At their closest approach, the two planets are separated by five times the distance between the Earth and the moon. How such different bodies ended up in such similar orbits may be tough for current theories of planet formation and migration to explain, researchers said.
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