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KELT-9B : Scientists Discover Hottest Giant Planet of the Solar System

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Artist's concept shows planet KELT-9b orbiting its host star, KELT-9. Source: www.jpl.nasa.gov
  • KELT-9b is 2.8 times more massive than Jupiter, but only half as dense
  • It is the hottest gas giant planet that has ever been discovered
  • One side of the planet is always facing toward the star, and one side is in perpetual darkness

Washington June 7, 2017: Astronomers have discovered the hottest planet ever known, with a dayside temperature of more than 4,300 degrees Celsius.

In fact, this planet, called KELT-9b, is hotter than most stars, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

“This is the hottest gas giant planet that has ever been discovered,” said Scott Gaudi, Professor at the Ohio State University in Columbus who led a study.

KELT-9b is 2.8 times more massive than Jupiter, but only half as dense.

It is nowhere close to habitable, but Gaudi said there is a good reason to study worlds that are unlivable in the extreme.

“As has been highlighted by the recent discoveries from the MEarth collaboration, the planet around Proxima Centauri, and the astonishing system discovered around TRAPPIST-1, the astronomical community is clearly focused on finding Earthlike planets around small, cooler stars like our sun,” Gaudi said.

“They are easy targets and there’s a lot that can be learned about potentially habitable planets orbiting very low-mass stars in general. On the other hand, because KELT-9b’s host star is bigger and hotter than the Sun, it complements those efforts and provides a kind of touchstone for understanding how planetary systems form around hot, massive stars,” he explained.

Because the planet is tidally locked to its star — as the moon is to Earth — one side of the planet is always facing toward the star, and one side is in perpetual darkness.

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Molecules such as water, carbon dioxide and methane cannot form on the dayside because it is bombarded by too much ultraviolet radiation.

The properties of the nightside are still mysterious — molecules may be able to form there, but probably only temporarily.

“It’s a planet by any of the typical definitions of mass, but its atmosphere is almost certainly unlike any other planet we’ve ever seen just because of the temperature of its dayside,” said Gaudi, worked on this study while on sabbatical at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Its star, called KELT-9, is even hotter — in fact, it is probably unravelling the planet through evaporation. It is only 300 million years old, which is young in star time.

It is more than twice as large, and nearly twice as hot, as our sun.

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Given that the planet’s atmosphere is constantly blasted with high levels of ultraviolet radiation, the planet may even be shedding a tail of evaporated planetary material like a comet.

“KELT-9 radiates so much ultraviolet radiation that it may completely evaporate the planet,” said Keivan Stassun, Professor at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.

The KELT-9b planet was found using the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope, or KELT. (IANS)

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NASA Probe Provides Insight on Solar System’s Distinct Boundary

Several research papers published Monday provided scientific details of that crossing

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NASA, Solar System, Boundary
Data from the NASA spacecraft Voyager 2 has helped further characterize the structure of the heliosphere — the wind sock-shaped region created by the sun's wind as it extends to the boundary of the solar system, as depicted in this image released by NASA. VOA

The journey of NASA’s dauntless Voyager 2 spacecraft through our solar system’s farthest reaches has given scientists new insight into a poorly understood distant frontier: the unexpectedly distinct boundary marking where the sun’s energetic influence ends and interstellar space begins.

The U.S. space agency previously announced that Voyager 2, the second human-made object ever to depart the solar system following its twin Voyager 1, had zipped into interstellar space on Nov. 5, 2018, at a point more than 11 billion miles (17.7 billion km) from the sun. Several research papers published Monday provided scientific details of that crossing.

Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched in 1977, designed for five-year missions. Voyager 1 left the solar system at a different location in 2012. Both are now traversing the Milky Way galaxy’s interstellar medium, a chillier region filling the vast expanses between the galaxy’s stars and planetary systems.

The solar wind — the unending flow of charged particles emanating from the outer atmosphere of the sun — creates an immense protective bubble called the heliosphere that envelopes the solar system. The boundary of the solar system — the place where the solar wind ends and interstellar space begins — is called the heliopause.

NASA, Solar System, Boundary
FILE – NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in space is shown in this artist’s rendering obtained from NASA in Washington, Dec. 10, 2018. VOA

‘Exciting time’

Voyager 2’s scientific instruments detected abrupt differences in plasma density and magnetic particles upon crossing the heliopause, the researchers said. The researchers said the heliopause appeared to be much thinner than expected.

Plasma — the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases — exists in the solar system as a soup of the charged particles beaming continuously outward from the sun and clashing with interstellar plasma that darts inward from other cosmic events like stellar explosions.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” California Institute of Technology physicist Edward Stone, project manager of the Voyager program, told reporters. “We will see a transition from the magnetic field inside to a different magnetic field outside, and we continue to have surprises compared to what we had expected.”

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The electromagnetic junction just outside the heliosphere was thought to be a deeper transitional place of intermingling cosmic weather, but Voyager 2’s plasma wave instrument — built by University of Iowa researchers — detected sharp jumps in plasma density, much like two different fluids coming into contact with one another.

“Think of a cold front that forms when a very cold air mass comes down to the U.S. from Canada,” said Don Gurnett, professor of physics at the University of Iowa. “Here we find a very hot plasma mass coming outward from the sun that encounters the cold plasma in the interstellar medium. It does not surprise me that a sharp boundary forms.”

Scientists are still trying to understand the nature of interstellar space wind and how much of it can seep through the heliopause to reach planets in our solar system.

“We also have galactic cosmic rays, which are out in the interstellar space trying to flow in,” Stone said, referring to the fast-moving, high-energy atomic particles whizzing around the universe. “And some of them, only about 30 percent of what’s outside, can actually reach Earth.”

NASA, Solar System, Boundary
The U.S. space agency previously announced that Voyager 2, the second human-made object ever to depart the solar system following its twin Voyager 1, had zipped into interstellar space. Pixabay

Voyager 2 entered the interstellar medium far beyond the orbit of Pluto at a spot about 120 times further from the sun than Earth’s orbit.

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The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy. (VOA)