Scientists Discover A Scorched Planet With A Comet-Like Tail

Extreme exoplanet Astronomers discover alien world hotter than most stars

Astronomers say the planet-the hottest giant exoplanet ever discovered-is not long for this world.

Another unique aspect to KELT-9b - the planet orbits the poles of its host star rather than its equator.

The team has published a paper describing the planet in the journal Nature and is also presenting it this week at a meeting of American Astronomical Society in Austin.

The heat bearing down on Kelt-9b is so intense that the planet puffs up like a soufflé to create a world almost three times as massive as Jupiter but only half as dense. Scientists would expect the planet to have a smaller radius, but the extreme radiation from its host star has caused the planet's atmosphere to puff up like a balloon.

While most planets we've discovered to date are around very tiny stars called red dwarfs, that's because those planets are easy to find - the stars are dim, so the transits are more pronounced.

"It's a planet by any of the typical definitions based on mass, but its atmosphere is nearly certainly unlike any other planet we've ever seen just because of the temperature of its day side", one of the researchers, astronomer Scott Gaudi from Ohio State University, said in a press statement.

KELT-9b orbits a star, dubbed KELT-9, which is more than twice as large and almost twice as hot as our sun.

"This is the hottest gas giant planet that has ever been discovered", said Scott Gaudi, astronomy professor at The Ohio State University in Columbus, who led a study on the topic.

"Or, if gas giant planets like KELT-9b possess solid rocky cores as some theories suggest, the planet may be boiled down to a barren rock, like Mercury".

That is, if the star doesn't grow to engulf it first.

That's a very unusual sight indeed, which is why some scientists are calling this a planet-star hybrid, with the important distinction that there is no nuclear fusion going on inside KELT-9b's core.

The extreme ultraviolet radiation bombarding KELT-9b is causing its atmosphere to bleed into space, and it probably has a glowing gas tail reminiscent of a comet.

While Gaudi and Stassun spend a lot of time developing missions created to find habitable planets in other solar systems, the scientists said there's a good reason to study worlds that are unlivable in the extreme.

"It's essentially skimming the surface of its star, and the star itself is much more luminous and much hotter than our Sun".

Scientists have found one of the craziest exoplanets yet.

Subsequent observations confirmed the signal was as a result of a "hot Jupiter" planet completing it "yearly" circuit every 1.5 days.

KELT is short for "Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope". The KELTs, in contrast, look at millions of very bright stars at once, over broad sections of sky, and at low resolution.

Unlike top-of-the-line telescopes which can cost millions of dollars to build, KELTs are made of mainly store-bought tech and cost less than $USD 75,000.

The discovery shocked even the astronomers themselves, who admitted to questioning whether the scorching world of KELT-9b could possibly be real. They used the Tillinghast Reflector Echelle Spectrograph at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona, which is operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Looking ahead, the astronomers would like make further observations of the system with other telescopes, including Spitzer, Hubble, and eventually James Webb, which launches to orbit next year.

While NPR reported that the planet has a comet-like tail, astronomer Drake Deming, a University of Maryland astronomer unaffiliated with the discovery, told the Post that this was an unproven hypothesis.

"Astronomy is, in part, the study of extremes", he said.

Two KELT telescopes are operated by astronomers at Ohio State, Vanderbilt University and Lehigh University.

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