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Boffins publish SciFi story to announce exoplanet find

Brit author Alastair Reynolds explains habitable zone planets around Kapteyn's star

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Boffins from the Queen Mary University of London have chosen an unusual way to announce a new exoplanet find, commissioning a short story describing the recently-revealed worlds.

There's a paper about the find too, and a promise of more to come in a future issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The paper suggests “Kapteyn's star is most probably orbited by two super-Earth mass planets, one of which is orbiting in its circumstellar habitable zone”.

The paper suggests the exoplanets in the habitable zone is “the oldest potentially habitable planet known to date,” which gives us a chance to speculate about planet formation in the earlier life of the Milky Way.

The find is also notable because Kapteyn's Star is just 13 light years away, a stroll to the shops in cosmic terms.

As Reynolds's short story explains, in the voice of a human-built probe about to visit the system, the star has other interesting qualities. Here's an excerpt:

“I've dug into my background files and I understand why you sent me to Kapteyn's star. Unlike the other systems I've visited, this sun and its little family of worlds aren't part of the normal family of stars orbiting in the disc and bulge of the galaxy. This is a halo star - a member of a dispersed population of stars and star clusters, enclosing the Milky Way in a great thin sphere. It's entirely possible that these stars were not originally part of our own galaxy, but were torn free of another one after a kind of gravitational collision. And some of these stars are unmeasurably old - more ancient and venerable, perhaps, than any disc stars.

Kapteyn's star is so slow-burning, so settled, that even my instruments can't put an upper limit on its age. It could be nearly as old as the universe.

And its planets?

Just as old.”

The full short story and more information on the exoplanets is available here. ®

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