Friday, 20 October, 2017

UW Faculty Member, Students Contribute to Paper on Newly Discovered 'Hot' Planet

An artist's conception of the KELT-9 system which has a host star that's almost twice as hot as our sun. The hot star blasts its nearby planet KELT-9b leading to a dayside surface temperature of around 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit The hottest planet ever discovered has an atmosphere as warm as a star's
Heather Davidson | 06 June, 2017, 06:43

The planet, which is a gas giant, orbits its star so closely that it manages to complete an entire orbit in just one and a half Earth days, which is almost 250 times faster than the Earth takes to get around our sun.

Kelt-9B is the hottest exoplanet ever discovered - and to make it even more fascinating, one side of the planet is always shrouded in darkness while the other side is always being scorched with light. Its temperature puts it in the hottest class of A- and B-type stars.

Researchers led by astronomers from Ohio State University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, are publishing a paper this week in the journal Nature which explains why the planet could reach temperatures over three-fourths the sun's surface.

Huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation from KELT-9 slam into the gas giant's atmosphere causing it to expand like a balloon and bleed atmosphere into space.

"It's like a star-planet hybrid", says Drake Deming, a planetary scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park who was not involved in the research.

"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", said lead author Scott Gaudi, professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University.

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

"It is so hot that it is hotter than most stars that we know of out there", said Scott Gaudi, professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University and leader of the study, as cited in NPR.

That means it probably won't be long before the planet is either completely gone, or blasted down to a barren, solid rock core (we don't yet know if planets like KELT-9b have rocky cores or not).

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

"KELT-9 will swell to become a red giant star in about a billion years", said Stassun.

"The long-term prospects for life, or real estate for that matter, on KELT-9b are not looking good", Stassun said.

In recent years, scientists have focused on finding small planets around small, cool stars, such as Proxima Centauri.

As if this planet weren't odd enough, it also orbits perpendicular to its star, traveling around the star's poles rather than the equator.

KELT-9b is also unique in its proximity to its giant, tempestuous A-type star. Deming also thinks the find has opened the door for a new approach to exoplanets. It is so close to its star, it completes an orbit every day and a half. Subsequent observations confirmed that the signal was caused by a transiting planet and revealed that it was what astronomers call a "hot Jupiter"-an ideal kind of planet for the KELT telescopes to spot".

KELT is short for "Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope".

Such extreme temperatures make KELT-9b a truly otherworldly place. This results in the planet's day side being bathed with a glow that can split molecules. So whereas a traditional telescope costs millions of dollars to build, the hardware for KELT, of which there are two, runs for less than $75,000. KELT-9b is at the "extreme end of the population" of known gassy, hot giants, said Jonathan Fortney, a University of California at Santa Cruz professor who creates computer models to determine what's in an exoplanet atmosphere. They used the Tillinghast Reflector Echelle Spectrograph at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona, which is operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

The astronomers hope to take a closer look at KELT-9b with other telescopes-including Spitzer, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and eventually the James Webb Space Telescope after it launches in 2018.

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