Astronomers from across the world observed a ring system eclipsing the star, J1407. What they found blew them away. The ring system is made up of over 30 rings and is 200 times larger than the rings around Saturn. Each of the 30 rings is tens of millions of kilometers in diameter and surrounds the exoplanet J1407b.
“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 Leiden Observatory’s Matthew Kenworthy.
Check out Phys.org for an image of what J1407b would look like in our skies.
The team of astronomers from Leiden Observatory and the University of Rochester were not able to observe the rings directly. The star system is way too far away for that. Instead, they observed the star light as it moved through the ring system and documented the variations in brightness.
The video below shows how the star’s brightness dims as the light passes through the rings.
Eric Mamajek talks about what the eclipse would look like if we could see it from Earth and more about the makeup of the rings.
“If you were to grind up the four large Galilean moons of Jupiter into dust and ice and spread out the material over their orbits in a ring around Jupiter, the ring would be so opaque to light that a distant observer that saw the ring pass in front of the sun would see a very deep, multi-day eclipse,” Mamajek says. “In the case of J1407, we see the rings blocking as much as 95 percent of the light of this young Sun-like star for days, so there is a lot of material there that could then form satellites.”
If you go back and watch the video above, you’ll see the total eclipse lasts from April 27 – May 3. What a sight that would be.
One prominent ring gap was seen during the eclipse. The best explanation would be a satellite has formed and cleared out the material in this gap.
J1407b’s rings aren’t forever
The rings around J1407b will thin over the next few millions years. Eventually, they will disappear altogether as moons form from all the material.
What we see with J1407b is probably what Saturn and Jupiter looked like at their early stages. “However, until we discovered this object in 2012, no-one had seen such a ring system. This is the first snapshot of satellite formation on million-kilometer scales around a substellar object,” says Mamajek.
Read the full paper here.