Featured Image for Astronomers have discovered the hottest – and maybe weirdest – planet ever
Science

Astronomers have discovered the hottest – and maybe weirdest – planet ever

Mother nature, you freaky.

After years of searching, a team of astronomers have found the hottest planet ever.

According to a study published yesterday in the journal Nature, the planet – an exoplanet named “KELT-9b” is roughly 3,700 degrees C on the “night” side and 4300 degrees C on the “day” side.

How hot is that? Well, the surface of our sun is around 5,600 degrees C and Venus, the hottest planet in our solar system is about 500 degrees.

KELT-9b is a gas giant located about 650 light years from earth. It orbits a blue star called “KELT 9”, which is almost twice as hot as our sun, travelling around it in just 1.5 Earth days.

“KELT-9b is one of the strangest exoplanets I’ve ever seen,” Scott Gaudi, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University told The Washington Post. He added that the data was so weird that he and another scientist had made a bet for a bottle of single-malt scotch on whether or not KELT-9b is a planet.

Gaudi won. As well as being super hot, KELT-9b has some other interesting traits. While all the planets in our solar system orbit around the sun’s equator, KELT-9b orbits around the poles of KELT-9.

KELT-9b also 2.8 times bigger than Jupiter but only half as dense and pumps out extreme levels of radiation.

Rounding out its freakiness, KELT-9b is so hot that it has a comet-like tail and may be disappearing.

“KELT-9b radiates so much ultraviolet radiation that it may completely evaporate the planet”, said Keivan Stassun, co-author of the study.

Unsure, he added “Or, if gas giant planets like KELT-9b possess solid rocky cores as some theories suggest, the planet may be boiled down to a barren rock, like Mercury.”

Stassun is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. In 2014, astronomers from Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Lehigh universities had spotted KELT-9b using instruments called “Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescopes or “KELTs”.

Unlike top-of-the-line telescopes which can cost millions of dollars to build, KELTs are made of mainly store-bought tech and cost less than $USD 75,000.

In addition to being cheaper, KELTs have another advantage. Large, expensive telescopes are designed to look at specific stars that are very far away, delivering high-res images. KELTs are good for spotting exoplanets because they examine large swathes of sky at relatively low resolution.

When searching space the broad appeal is to find planets that may be habitable. With its scorching temperatures, it is extremely unlikely that KELT-9b will harbour any life or be a place we’ll want to visit anytime soon.

However, scientists can still learn a lot from planets like this which are frankly weird and change our understanding of the universe.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

Leave a comment