Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Weird Planets 11

Good Morning! Today we'll be visiting some of the Gliese discoveries, and then... well, we'll see if we have the time to visit anything else.

Our first visit is to Gliese 436b, which orbits that faint red dwarf you can probably see in the distance. Gliese 436b is about the size of Neptune, but has a small rocky core, surrounded by ice that makes up the majority of its size. And then 436b has a huge hydrogen cloud surrounding it, a cloud that is approximately 50 times the size of 436b proper. Like a comet, 436b exudes a 'tail' of this hydrogen as it orbits its sun. And finally, despite its icy exterior, this planet has an average temperature around 439 C. Some people call this the 'burning ice planet'.

Here is Gliese 581c, which made headlines when its discovery was announced in 2007. This is a super-Earth, with a mass 5 times that of our own. So if you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, here you would weigh 500 pounds. Even so, this was one of the first to be announced as a potentially hospitable planet. However, further study revealed that it was 'tidally locked', meaning that one side always faces its parent star. That side would be blistering hot, and the opposite side unbelievably cold. The only possible location that might offer acceptable temperatures would be the 'twilight zone' between day and night, which I'm thinking would possibly experience a lot of wind. So, a fairly thin band of livable area with a lot of wind, and you weigh 5 times what you should. Surely we could find a better place to colonize?

Gliese 581e is in the same system. 581E used to hold the title as the smallest alien planet, but in January 2011, the announcement of Kepler 10b meant 581e lost that title.

Okay, we do have time for a couple more, so let's look at the WASP planets!

WASP 17b is the first planet discovered that orbits in the opposite direction as its host star's rotation. It also currently has the title of 'Most Puffy'. This is because it is the 2nd largest planet currently known, but its mass is half of Jupiter's. Sounds like a big ball of gas, right?

That brings us to our final system for the day, WASP 47. This is a compact multi-planet system, the only one known to hold a 'hot Jupiter' with close companions.

Now, sit back and relax. We'll be back at the station in a jiffy.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Weird Planets 10

Good morning! Congratulations on completing the first 9 installments of your tour. We don’t have as many worlds to visit as yesterday, so there will be ample time to relax. If you want a pillow or beverage, press the blue button on your arm rest, and either CXQ-9 or CXQ-10 will tend to you. Now, if everybody is comfortable, we’ll get started.

Excuse me. I’m sorry to disturb you, but we are entering the system of today’s first planet. If you turn your attention to your viewers, currently on their maximum magnification, you’ll see a small deep-pink blob. This is GJ-504b, the Pink Planet, 57.3 light years from Earth. The dark pink glow of GJ-504b is caused by the remaining heat of its formation. It’s about the same size as Jupiter, but it’s further from its sun than Neptune is from ours. Scientists didn’t think such a large planet could form at that distance because there wouldn’t be enough dust and debris. Your viewers will adjust their magnification as we approach and swing past, so you can get a good look.

Your attention, please. We are now 434 light-years from Earth, approaching planet J1407B, which is described as a ‘Super-Saturn’. It has a mass of 40 Jupiters and 37 rings surround it, spanning 120 million kilometres. That’s about 200 times the size of Saturn’s rings. Some scientists think these rings may be in the process of forming moons, which has them quite excited, since they’ve never seen that happen outside of our solar system. Actually, even within our system, we haven’t seen it happen.

CXQ-9 and -10 will serve brunch as we move on, complete with champagne! Enjoy!

Good afternoon! Your viewers are currently showing KOI-314c, the lightest planet to have both its mass and physical size measured. Rather surprisingly, it has the same mass as Earth, but is 60% larger in diameter. If you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you will still weigh 100 pounds on KOI-314c. However, the larger diameter seems to indicate a very thick atmosphere. If you look slightly to the left of the planet’s image, you’ll see the red dwarf star that it orbits. This system is about 200 light-years from Earth. Yes, we are already headed back to the tour station.

This is our final viewing for today. This is Epsilon Eridani b, which orbits an orange Sun-like star only 10.5 light years from Earth. Before long, Earth telescopes may be able to photograph it directly. Unfortunately, it is too far from its star to have liquid water or life as we know it. However, I’m going I’ll make a couple low orbits around it and set your viewers on maximum, and you can all try to spot life as we don’t know it!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have returned to the tour station. I hope you have enjoyed your day with Star Tours. Er, I mean, Planet Tours.