Scientists discover a giant and very strange exoplanet

The Cheops mission, which searches for exoplanets across the cosmos, has just identified the first non-spherical planet ever discovered. According to observations made by the telescope, with the help of Hubble, the planet is roughly shaped like a rugby ball.

According to research published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the new exoplanet is quite giant. The celestial body is, in this sense, approximately 1.5 times the mass of Jupiter (the largest planet in our solar system). Furthermore, the planet named WASP-103b orbits a star 1.7 times larger than the Sun, in the constellation of Hercules.

Using the curve of light from WASP-103b circling around the star, the team of researchers was able to measure the distribution of mass in the planet’s body.

“The resistance of a material to being deformed depends on its composition,” says research author Susana Barros in a statement. “For example, here on Earth we have seas because of the Moon and the Sun, but we can only see the tides in the oceans. The rocky part doesn’t move much. By measuring how much a planet deforms we can tell when it is rocky, gaseous or water.”

Gravity shaping the non-spherical planet

The effect that formed the stellar rugby ball, therefore, is similar to what we observe here on Earth with the tidal pattern. However, on WASP-103b the gravity is so great that it was able to shape the rocky material of the planet. This is because this non-spherical planet is much closer to its star than would be normal.

This therefore leads to another curiosity about WASP-103b. It turns out that planets very close to their stars tend to decrease their orbital period and eventually collide and merge with the larger star. However, measurements indicate that WASP-103b’s orbital period is actually increasing.

Image: BY-SA 3.0 / Wikipedia Commons

This then suggests that a second force, possibly greater than the star’s own gravity, is acting on the exoplanet, pulling it away from the star. However, further measurements are needed to follow through with any hypotheses, in addition to confirming the data observed in the research.

“The size of the effect of tidal deformation on an exoplanet’s transit light curve is very small, but thanks to the very high accuracy of Cheops we are able to see this for the first time,” says researcher Kate Isaak. “This study is an excellent example of the very diverse issues that exoplanet scientists can face with Cheops, illustrating the importance of this flexible follow-up mission.”

About Raju Singh

Raju has an exquisite taste. For him, video games are more than entertainment and he likes to discuss forms and art.

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