Congratulations to current Mathematics student (Brayden Albery) and Physics alumni (Jake Muff) on their first research article. Both worked on small research projects during the summer, one of which was funded by Undergraduate Research Opportunity Scheme (UROS), to help understand the huge ring system thought to orbit the large exoplanet known as J1407b. The ring system was inferred by the unusually long and uneven transit when the planet passed in front of the star J1407, also known as V1400 Centauri. Previous work had shown that a gap in the ring could not be caused by an orbital resonance with a nearby exomoon, similar to how the Cassini Division is formed by the 2:1 orbital resonance with the moon Mimas (seen as the gap in the middle of the ring below).
The new research aim tot investigate if exomoons were able to form in the ring, which could then carve out a gap and is comparable to how the moons Pan and Daphne carve gaps in Saturn’s rings (below).
Simulations of the ring around J1407b as it orbited the star on a very elliptical orbit showed that it was not possible to form moons. The ring underwent significant disruption that hindered the formation of moons. However, an interesting feature was observed in one of the models. A gap did form in a similar location (0.4AU) in the ring where the original gap had been inferred from the transit.
Above: Four models of a retrograde ring system during their close encounter with the star. The eccentricity of the planets orbit increases for each row, and shows a greater degree of distortion. The right hand side gives the surface density of the ring.