This Planet Burns Hotter Than Most Stars

The phrase “hot mess” has never been more appropriate. Astronomers have found a massive, wildly whirling, disintegrating exoplanet that reaches a burning 7800°F. The team described the bizarre gas giant in the journal Nature.

The Hubble and other big space telescopes tend to get all the glory, but smaller instruments here on Earth are working just as hard. The newly discovered exoplanet, called KELT-9b, was named for the humble scope that spotted it—a KELT, or Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope.

Located 650 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus (pictured here), KELT-9b is one strange celestial body.

Part of the constellation Cygnus.NASA/JPL/Caltech

With nearly three times the mass of Jupiter, it's gargantuan, and it’s locked in breakneck orbit around the star HD 195689 (a.k.a. KELT-9). The exoplanet is so close to the star and moving so fast that one full transit around HD 195689—what we think of as a year—takes less than two days.

The planet is also tidally locked to its star, the same way we only ever see one side of our Moon. And the side of KELT-9b that faces HD 195689 is on permanent, hellish blast. It’s so hot that if you somehow managed to get water onto its surface, the water would immediately dissociate into its component molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

Co-lead author Scott Gaudi of The Ohio State University says he and his colleagues are just boggled by the discovery.

"It's a planet by any of the typical definitions based on mass, but its atmosphere is almost certainly unlike any other planet we've ever seen just because of the temperature of its day side," he said in a statement.

But KELT-9b’s blazing, wild ride is not destined to last. The paper authors say the exoplanet is likely already shedding mass like a comet as it moves. And if this gradual melting doesn’t destroy it, its ravenous sun will swallow the peculiar, scalding planet like a cookie straight out of the oven.

"The long-term prospects for life, or real estate for that matter, on KELT-9b are not looking good,” co-lead author Keivan Stassun of Vanderbilt University said in the statement.

This is too bad for KELT-9b, but it could be very good for science.

"As we seek to develop a complete picture of the variety of other worlds out there,” Stassun said, “it's important to know not only how planets form and evolve, but also when and under what conditions they are destroyed."

Gaudi says the discovery is a reminder that we still have a lot to learn, and that we need to think bigger.

“Mother Nature is way more imaginative than we are,” he told CNN. “And anytime you find something this weird, it broadens your horizons of what nature can possibly be like."

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

3D Map Shows the Milky Way Galaxy in Unprecedented Detail

ESA
ESA

It's our galactic home, but the Milky Way contains many mysteries scientists are working to unravel. Now, as The Guardian reports, astronomers at the European Space Agency have built a 3D map that provides the most detailed look at our galaxy yet.

The data displayed in the graphic below has been seven years in the making. In 2013, the ESA launched its Gaia observatory from Kourou in French Guiana. Since then, two high-powered telescopes aboard the spacecraft have been sweeping the skies, recording the locations, movements, and changes in brightness of more than a billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond.

Using Gaia's findings, astronomers put together a 3D map that allows scientists to study the galaxy in greater depth than ever before. The data has made it possible to measure the acceleration of the solar system. By comparing the solar system's movement to that of more remote celestial objects, researchers have determined that the solar system is slowly falling toward the center of the galaxy at an acceleration of 7 millimeters per second per year, The Guardian reports. Additionally, the map reveals how matter is distributed throughout the Milky Way. With this information, scientists should be able to get an estimate of the galaxy's mass.

Gaia's observations may also hold clues to the Milky Way's past and future. The data holds remnants of the 10-billion-year-old disc that made up the edge of the star system. By comparing it to the shape of the Milky Way today, astronomers have determined that the disc will continue to expand as new stars are created.

The Gaia observatory was launched with the mission of gathering an updated star census. The previous census was conducted in 1957, and Gaia's new data reaches four times farther and accounts for 100 times more stars.

[h/t The Guardian]