A University of Washington astronomer is being credited with helping to find a new planet about the size of Neptune.
Eric Agol was the co-lead author or the paper documenting the discovery of Kepler 36b.
The planet,named after the spacecraft that collected the data which allowed Agol to find it, is about 1,200 light years away.
Agol says Kepler doesn’t see the planets, but does see their shadows. When light from stars dims at certain intervals, it can mean there’s a planet orbiting the star. NASA astronomers found another planet called Kepler 36c, but missed the much smaller Kepler 36b. The planets are so close together, gravity makes them bounce off their orbits.
"These are the closest two planets to one another that have ever been found," Agol said. "The bigger planet is pushing the smaller planet around more, so the smaller planet was harder to find.”
Kepler 36b, orbits its sun every 13.8 days and the outer planet. Kepler 36c orbits every 16.2 days. On their closest approach, the neighboring duo comes within about 1.2 million miles of each other. This is only five times the Earth-moon distance and about 20 times closer to one another than any two planets in our solar system.
Kepler 36b is a rocky world measuring 1.5 times the radius and 4.5 times the mass of Earth. Kepler 36c is a gaseous giant measuring 3.7 times the radius and eight times the mass of Earth. The planetary odd couple orbits a star slightly hotter and a couple billion years older than our sun.
Video report by KING 5's Glenn Farley. Web information compiled by KING 5’s Travis Pittman