After studying thousands of exoplanets, NASA scientists are beginning to think that our solar system is the real misfit.
For the second time this month, NASA researchers have discovered a distant exoplanet with a highly eccentric orbit. According to a recent study from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, scientists originally thought planet HD 80606b was a comet due to its extremely elliptical path around its host star.
The planet is roughly the same size as Jupiter, but has about four times the mass. It hails from the constellation Ursa Major, in a solar system 190 light-years away from ours. It falls under the category of similar gas giants that swerve dangerously close to their host stars, known to scientists as “hot Jupiters.”
The highly elliptical, or “eccentric” orbit of gas giants like these has fascinated scientists for decades. Instead of traveling around its host star in a circle, HD 80606b follows a path closer to a comet – coming within an extremely close distance with its host star before being flung back out in the outer reaches of the solar system.
It takes only 20 hours for the planet to spin around the back of its star before it heads back out into space. As it nears the star, it receives a massive infusion of radiation. The rapid flux of energy makes the planet extremely hot, making any chance of the necessary ingredients for life nearly impossible.
“According to Julien de Wit, a scientist at MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, “If the Earth were to be moved that close to our sun, it wouldn’t take long for it to lose its atmosphere and turn its surface to magma.”
De Wit and his colleagues described their observations of planet HD 80606b’s closest approach to its host star in a paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. They found that the surface temperature on the side of the planet facing the sun on its closest approach comes close to 1,400 kelvins, or almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
A press release from NASA describing the details of the new study can be found here.