SF State researcher leads team that spots extrasolar planet 'swinging around its star like it's a comet'
Led by San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane, a team of researchers has spotted an extrasolar planet about 117 light-years from earth that boasts the most eccentric orbit yet seen.
What's more, Kane and his colleagues were able to detect a signal of reflected light from the planet known as HD 20782 -- a "flash" of starlight bouncing off the eccentric planet's atmosphere as it made its closest orbital approach to its star. The discovery was announced online Feb. 28, 2016 in The Astrophysical Journal.
In this case, "eccentric" doesn't refer to a state of mind, but instead describes how elliptical a planet's orbit is around its star. While the planets in our solar system have nearly circular orbits, astronomers have discovered several extrasolar planets with highly elliptical or eccentric orbits.
HD 20782 has the most eccentric orbit known, measured at an eccentricity of .96. This means that the planet moves in a nearly flattened ellipse, traveling a long path far from its star and then making a fast and furious slingshot around the star at its closest approach.
HD 20782 offers "a particularly lucrative observing opportunity" for studying the planetary atmosphere of an eccentric-orbit planet -- a type not seen in our own solar system, the scientists say in the journal article. By studying the reflected light from HD 20782, astronomers may learn more about the structure and composition of a planetary atmosphere that can withstand a brief but blistering exposure to its star.
At the furthest point in its orbit, the planet is separated from its star by 2.5 times the distance between the sun and Earth. At its closest approach, it ventures as close as .06 of that same Earth-sun distance -- much closer than Mercury orbits the sun, said Kane, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy. "It's around the mass of Jupiter, but it's swinging around its star like it's a comet."
An earlier observation of HD 20782 suggested that the planet might have an extremely eccentric orbit. Kane and his colleagues were able to confirm its extreme eccentricity and the rest of its orbital parameters as part of the Transit Ephemeris Refinement and Monitoring Survey (TERMS), a project led by Kane to detect extrasolar planets as they pass in front of their stars.
Using these new parameters to time their observations, the scientists also used a satellite-based telescope to collect light data from the planet as it orbited closest to its star. They were able to detect a change in brightness that appears to be a signal of reflected light bouncing off the planet's atmosphere.
The reflected light could tell researchers more about how the atmosphere of a planet like HD 20782 responds when it spends most of its time far away from its star, "but then has a very close approach where it's flash-heated by the star," Kane said.
The percentage of light reflected from a planet, or how bright it appears in the sky, is determined in part by the composition of its atmosphere. Planets shrouded in clouds full of icy particles, like Venus and Jupiter, for instance, are very reflective. But if a planet like Jupiter were to move too close to the sun, the heat would remove the icy material in its clouds.
In some of the extrasolar, Jupiter-sized planets that tread short, circular orbits, Kane explained, this phenomenon does appear to strip the atmospheres of reflective particles, making the planets appear "dark." But in the case of HD 20782, "the atmosphere of the planet doesn't have a chance to respond," he said. "The time it takes to swing around the star is so quick that there isn't time to remove all the icy materials that make the atmosphere so reflective."
Astronomers can't determine the exact makeup of HD 20782's atmosphere yet, but this newest observation does suggest that it might have an atmosphere with Jupiter-like, highly reflective cloud cover.
Extrasolar planets like HD 20782 contain a wealth of questions for astronomers, Kane said. "When we see a planet like this that is in an eccentric orbit, it can be really hard to try and explain how it got that way," he explained. "It's kind of like looking at a murder scene, like those people who examine blood spatter patterns on the walls. You know something bad has happened, but you need to figure out what it was that caused it."
There are few possible "suspects" in the case of HD 20782, Kane noted. It could be that there was originally more than one planet in the system, and one planet developed an unstable orbit that brought the two planets too close together. This collision or near-collision might have ejected one planet from the system entirely and pushed HD 20782 on its eccentric path. The planet is in a binary star system, so it might also be the case that the second star in the binary made a close approach that threw HD 20782 off a more circular orbit.
Kane is a member of the science team for two upcoming satellite missions -- NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the European Space Agency's Characterizing ExOPLanet Satellite (CHEOPS) -- that will have HD 20782 in their sights after they launch in 2018.
"Evidence for reflected light from the most eccentric exoplanet known" by Stephen R. Kane, Robert A. Wittenmyer (University of New South Wales), Natalie R. Hinkel (Arizona State University), Arpita Roy and Suvrath Mahadevan (Pennsylvania State University), Diana Dragomir (Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network), Jaymie M. Matthews (University of British Columbia), Gregory W. Henry (Tennessee State University), Abhijit Chakraborty (Physical Research Laboratory, Navrangpura), Tabetha S. Boyajian (Yale University), Jason T. Wright (Pennsylvania State University), David R. Ciardi (Caltech), Debra A. Fischer (Yale University), R. Paul Butler (Carnegie Institution of Washington), C.G. Tinney (University of New South Wales), Brad D. Carter (University of Southern Queensland), Hugh R.A. Jones (University of Hertfordshire), Jeremy Bailey (University of New South Wales) and Simon J. O'Toole (Australian Astronomical Observatory) was published online on Feb. 28.
San Francisco State University makes things happen. Founded in 1899, it is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. Its nationally acclaimed programs span a broad range of disciplines. Nearly 30,000 students enroll at the University each year, and its more than 236,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond. Through them -- and more than 1,600 world-class faculty members -- SF State proudly embraces its legacy of academic excellence, community engagement and commitment to social justice. For more information, visit sfsu.edu
Jonathan Morales | EurekAlert!
Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm
23.03.2018 | Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics
Drug or duplicate?
23.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Festkörperphysik IAF
Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.
The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...
An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
23.03.2018 | Event News
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences
23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy