A third exoplanet in the Kepler-88 system has been discovered by astronomers and it is massive. The newly discovered planet, which is called Kepler-88 d, is located approximately 1,250 light-years away from us and it takes four Earth years for it to complete a full oval-shaped orbit around its star.
The High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory’s Keck I telescope in Hawaii was used by astronomers for six years in order to study the system in more detail and ultimately found Kepler-88 d.
Kepler-88 d is three times the mass of Jupiter. To put this into better perspective, Jupiter, which is the biggest planet in our Solar System, is approximately 300 times the mass of Earth and around twice the mass of the second-largest planet Saturn.
Kepler-88 b and c have previously been detected by scientists and studies show that their orbit times are much shorter than the newly discovered Kepler-88 d. It takes Kepler-88 b only 11 Earth days to orbit the star Kepler-88, while Kepler-88 c’s orbit lasts double the time at 22 days. This causes a mean motion resonance which is when Kepler-88 b gets a push from the larger Kepler-88 c every two times that it goes around the star because their orbits are in ratio.
Richard Pogge, who is an astronomer at Ohio State University but was no involved with the study, compared this to a child being pushed on a swing. “If the pushes of the child come at random times, sometimes pushing with their swing and boosting them, other times pushing against their swing and slowing them down, they average out and the swing doesn’t change much. However, if the pushes are all timed just right so that you push the child with their swing each time, the in-phase pushes build up and the child’s swing gets amplified,” he explained.
Scientists were able to detect the changes in Kepler-88 b’s orbit timing by using NASA’s Kepler space telescope when it was in operation. In fact, when they were observing the planet pass in front of Kepler-88, they noticed that the star’s brightness dipped either by a half a day early or a half a day late, indicating the timing change of the orbit.
It is believed that since Kepler-88 d is so massive, it dominates the other two planets in the system. “At three times the mass of Jupiter, Kepler-88 d has likely been even more influential in the history of the Kepler-88 system than the so-called King, Kepler-88 c, which is only one Jupiter mass,” stated Lauren Weiss, who is the lead author of the study (which can be read in full here) and Beatrice Watson Parrent Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy. “So maybe Kepler-88 d is the new supreme monarch of this planetary empire — the empress,” she added.
Huge planets can actually have quite an impact on their surroundings. Jupiter, for example, is believed to have caused the asteroid belt that’s located between it and Mars. Additionally, it’s been suggested that it is the reason why Mars is small in size as well as being responsible for the comets that could have potentially brought water to Earth when our planet was first forming. Jupiter is also considered to be our Solar System’s protector as it demolishes comets and asteroids that travel too close.