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‘Hot Jupiter’ exoplanets are super weird

Published Jan 27th, 2020 11:14PM EST
science news
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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In the hunt for planets outside of our own solar system, scientists have spotted a number of interesting planet types that we simply don’t have in our neck of the cosmic woods. So-called “hot Jupiter” planets are one such type, and new research suggests that they’re even more bizarre than previously thought.

Hot Jupiters, as their name implies, are gas giant planets that are a lot hotter than Jupiter itself. These planets orbit very near to their host star, and that makes them far too hot to support life of any kind (or so we assume). Now, scientists using data from NASA’s Spitzer space telescope suggest that some of these planets are so hot that they are basically disintegrating and then reforming right before our eyes.

According to the research, which was published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, the hydrogen molecules on the star-facing side of the ultra-hot Jupiter planet known as KELT-9b are being torn apart by the intense heat flowing out from its host star. Those molecules can’t reform until they swirl back around to the dark side of the planet.

“This kind of planet is so extreme in temperature, it is a bit separate from a lot of other exoplanets,” lead author Megan Mansfield of the University of Chicago said in a statement. “There are some other hot Jupiters and ultra-hot Jupiters that are not quite as hot but still warm enough that this effect should be taking place.”

Planets like KELT-9b aren’t exactly common, and that may be because of the extreme conditions under which they exist. In this case, the ultra-hot Jupiter orbits its star every one and a half Earth days. That’s an incredibly close relationship between a star and a planet, and it’s still unclear how long such planets can exist before essentially being torn apart in bits and pieces.