Thursday, October 12, 2017

Weird Planets 7

We are about to start our whirl-wind tour of some of the remaining weird planets, but first, please pay attention to the following non-safety-related information:
Who designed the way stars and planets are named? I’ve more or less figured out how it works, but it really doesn’t give you any information about that star or planet. First, there’s some designation that I think indicates who/what ‘discovered’ the star. I recognize ‘Kepler’, which in its 2nd stage of life is denoted as ‘K2’. But WASP? CaRoT? No Idea. Then comes a number to designate the star. And finally, a letter to designate the planet within that star’s system. The planets are lettered as they are found, so smaller planets probably have later letters than big planets, even if they are closer to that star.

Please keep your hands and legs inside this blog at all times, as I am both driver and tour guide, and we have a lot of space to cover!

The first planet we’ll visit in this 3rd leg of our tour is PSR J1719-14 b (AKA the Sun Hugger), which is only 3,900 light-years from Earth. This is a possible member of the diamond-planet family (I told you about one of those in an earlier blog), and it races around its star in only 2.2 Earth hours, which makes it the fastest planet in the Ultra-Short-Period-Planet category. Also, it’s a pulsar planet, because its star is a pulsar.

Now, out the other window, take a peek at PSR J1719-1438-?, another pulsar planet orbiting a pulsar 4,000 light-years from Earth. Scientists think this planet was once a star, but when its companion became a pulsar, the huge gravity field stripped most of it away, leaving it with only the mass of Jupiter, and exerted pressure on what was left to make it a diamond planet.

Now around here – somewhere – we can see the PSR B1257+12 system discovered in 1992 and 1994. These pulsar planets at one time were the smallest planetary bodies known to exist outside our own solar system.

Here we’ve reached 12,400 light years from Earth to view PSR 1620-26 b (AKA Methuselah). As you might have guessed, it got its nickname by being old. Too old, some say, because it’s 13 billion years in age, almost 3 times as old as Earth! It would have formed less than 1 billion years after the Big Bang, even though it was thought there wasn’t enough material (I assume they mean heavier elements) to create a core for a planet. So, what’s it made of? I don’t know, they didn’t say. At that distance, maybe they can’t tell. So how do they know how old it is? Do you suppose they counted its wrinkles? J

Okay, you can take a little break now while I get us in another section of the universe.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Weird Planets 6

Some of these planets look familiar, which is how they get their nicknames. Is it a surprise that someone has imagined planets similar to actual exoplanets?

HD 188753 is sometimes called Tatooine. It is a Jupiter-sized planet located 149 light-years away from us… in a triple star system. One list explained that this meant the planet orbited a star, which orbited another star, which orbited a third star. They could be right that HD 188753 is set up this way, but it is not the only configuration available to 3 stars and 1 planet. How many other configurations can you come up with?

Whatever the configuration of this system, the gravitational fields would be complex, so scientists were surprised to find planets could be created in such a gravity maelstrom. Dr Maciej Konacki of CalTech feels the view from this planet would be spectacular, with ‘occasional’ triple sunsets. Yes, that’s possible; it depends on the distance between the triplet stars. Some ‘companion’ stars are so far apart that each appears as only a bright point to the other. But this Tatooine would definitely be hot; it completes an orbit around its star in 3.5 Earth days, so it is snuggled up real close.

CoRoT-7b was the first exoplanet to be dubbed a ‘Super Earth’. That means it’s a rocky planet, not a gaseous one. Knowing that other rocky planets exist, scientists can look for potentially habitable planets that reside in a star’s ‘Goldilocks’ zone.

However, this particular planet does not look like a pleasant place, as it is tidally locked to its star, meaning the same side always faces the star, and the temperature on that face is around 4,000° F. If you want to visit, consider that it may be the rocky core of a vaporized gas giant where it rains rocks. Be sure you take a strong umbrella with you!

Kepler-10b is the first rocky planet discovered by the Kepler equipment. It is the smallest known exoplanet; an Earth-sized world that may have a lava ocean on its surface. I love a hot tub, but that’s too hot.

OGLE-2005-BLG-390 is the first ‘cold super Earth’ exoplanet discovered, nicknamed Hoth. The thought is that it began to accumulate a Jupiter-like core of rock and ice, but didn’t stop with just a core. It is 5.5 times the mass of Earth, has a surface temperature of -364° Fahrenheit, and orbits a red dwarf star some 28,000 light-years away.

Well, on this trip, we’ve gone from Tatooine to Hoth. Have we gotten all the ‘extremes’ done? I’m not sure. But next week, we’ll start zipping through the planets that only appeared on 1 list. Bring your seat belt!