Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Most eccentric planet ever known flashes astronomers with reflected light

21.03.2016

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.


This graphic shows the orbit of the planet HD 20782 relative to the inner planets of our solar system. HD 20782's orbit more closely resembles that of a comet, making it the most eccentric planet ever known.

Credit: Stephen Kane

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

Media Contact

Jonathan Morales
jmm1@sfsu.edu
415-338-1743

 @SFSU

http://www.sfsu.edu 

Jonathan Morales | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
17.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

nachricht Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino
16.07.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>